Sarah K. Wake Partner

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Sarah knows firsthand the complex legal and compliance challenges that corporations, colleges, and universities face, having served as external employment counsel, in-house counsel, and a diversity, equity, and inclusion business unit leader.

She is a skilled litigator with extensive experience representing and counseling corporations and institutions of higher education on a variety of issues.

Sarah regularly counsels her higher education clients – including research institutions in the Ivy League, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast Conference, and Southeastern Conference – on issues related to faculty tenure and promotion; student and employee unionization efforts; discrimination, harassment, and sexual misconduct policy, investigations, and hearings; Title IX compliance; athletics (including NCAA Division I compliance issues and name, image, and likeness); admissions; student conduct; affirmative action in employment and admissions; diversity, equity, and inclusion; the Clery Act; the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA); and physical and digital accessibility.

She has significant experience defending corporations in connection with a variety of employment-related claims including those under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and state discrimination and wage and hour laws. Sarah also routinely conducts high-profile and sensitive internal investigations for corporations, including Fortune 500 companies.

Sarah returned to McGuireWoods after spending over 8 years in higher education, the last five of which she spent in Northwestern University’s Office of General Counsel. In this role, her principal areas of responsibility included student-related issues (including athletics) and matters related to diversity, equity, and inclusion for students, faculty, and staff. While at Northwestern, Sarah was an active member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I Committee on Infractions, which is charged with deciding cases involving alleged rules violations by NCAA member institutions and their employees.

Prior to her time at Northwestern, Sarah served as the Associate Provost & Director for the Office for Equal Opportunity Programs at the University of Chicago, where she oversaw all complaints of discrimination, harassment, and sexual misconduct and served as the University’s Title IX Coordinator, Section 504/Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator, and Affirmative Action Officer. She also previously worked at the University of Notre Dame as the Director of the Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX Coordinator and then Advisor to the Vice President for Research. As Advisor to the Vice President for Research, Sarah focused on issues related to export controls, research misconduct, and innovation, translation, and commercialization efforts. Sarah served as a law clerk for the United States Attorney’s Office and as an intern in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, where she focused on various criminal matters including sexual assaults.

She understands the importance of collaborating with her clients and their stakeholders to prevent and respond to legal issues that arise, so that her clients can focus on their distinct missions.


  • Appeared in federal and state courts and administrative agencies (including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Office for Civil Rights) on behalf of corporations and educational institutions regarding wage & hour issues, Title IX, Title VI, employment discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
  • Managed large-scale litigation in defense of whistleblower, class-action vacation pay, and employment discrimination claims.
  • Represented and advised top research institutions in matters related to student and faculty unionization, athletics compliance, internal and external investigations, student privacy, fundraising, discrimination and harassment (including Title IX), student and employee disciplinary processes, student financial aid, accommodating individuals with disabilities, minors on campus, international programs and activities, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the Clery Act.
  • Helped manage public relations matters for universities, including drafting press statements and developing strategy.
  • Developed and conducted university-wide training (including for senior leadership and board members) regarding discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct, and retaliation and oversaw all internal and external investigations and disciplinary processes regarding the same.
  • Provided advice and trainings related to affirmative action programs, job postings, policies, accommodating applicants and employees with disabilities, and personnel issues.