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New Cases and Developments

NACUA's Legal Resources staff summarizes current higher education cases and developments and provides the full text of selected cases to members. New cases and developments are archived here for up to 12 months.  Cases provided by Fastcase, Inc.

Dates
Tenure; Faculty & Staff

Wander, et al. v. St. John’s University (N.Y. App. Div. Feb. 15, 2017)

Plaintiffs Wander and Manda were tenured professors at St. John’s University (SJU).  SJU suspended Plaintiffs with pay while they investigated allegations that Plaintiffs had misrepresented information on their tenure and promotion applications.  After concluding that Plaintiffs had committed “academic fraud” by “knowingly providing false information to investigators,” the President converted their suspensions to suspensions without pay.  Plaintiffs sued, alleging that SJU’s actions were arbitrary and capricious, and the Supreme Court agreed.  The Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division overturned the decision, concluding that academic fraud was a “sound basis in reason [to convert the suspensions to suspensions without pay], and the determination was taken in regard to the facts.”

2/17/2017
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Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Jane Doe v. University of Kansas (D. Kan., Feb. 16, 2017)

Order granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.  Plaintiff alleged that she was sexually assaulted by a member of the University of Kansas (KU) football team, that her rowing coach subjected to relentless harassment about her weight and body shape, and that her rowing coach retaliated against her for reporting the assault by refusing to allow her to attend a winter training event.  Adopting and incorporating by reference the rational set forth in the Memorandum and Order in Tackett v. Univ. of Kansas, the Court found that the Plaintiff failed to allege a plausible Simpson claim against the University.  However, the Court allowed Plaintiff’s deliberate indifference and retaliation claims to proceed.

2/17/2017
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Practice of Higher Education Law; Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration

Hawthorne-Burdine v. Oakland Univ. et al. (E.D. Mich., Feb. 14, 2017)

Order granting Oakland University’s Motion to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment. This case arose out of an employment dispute between the Plaintiff and Oakland University.  In 2015, prior to filing this lawsuit, Plaintiff fully and finally litigated claims related to the employment dispute.  In the instant case, Plaintiff brought 21 additional state and federal claims against the defendant, all of which arose from the same employment dispute that was the subject of the 2015 litigation.  The Court dismissed the federal claims under the doctrine of res judicata, reasoning that the Plaintiff was foreclosed from brining any claims that should have been raised in the earlier lawsuit.  The Court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims.

2/16/2017
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First Amendment & Free Speech; Retaliation; Sex Discrimination; Faculty & Staff; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Tenure; Constitutional Issues

Kazar v. Slippery Rock Univ. of Pa. (3rd Cir., Feb, 14, 2017)

Plaintiff-Appellant, a former professor at Slippery Rock University (SRU), alleged that SRU engaged in gender-based employment discrimination and retaliated against her for participating in LGBT advocacy programs after SRU declined to renew her tenure-track position as an Assistant Professor of Geography, Geology, and Environment.  On Plaintiff’s First Amendment and retaliation claims, the Court found that Plaintiff failed to show the requisite temporal proximity or pattern of antagonism necessary to establish a nexus between her advocacy work the University’s decision not to renew her appointment, especially since she failed to complete her doctorate, which was a requirement for the position. The Court found no evidence that SRU’s Ph.D. requirement was pretext for sex discrimination. 

2/16/2017
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Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Nelson v. Univ. of Cincinnati, 2017 Ohio 514 (Ohio App., Feb. 14, 2017)

Decision from the Court of Appeals of the Ohio Tenth Appellate District affirming judgment in favor of the Defendant-Appellee.  Appellant, an African-American man, was terminated from his at will position as Dean of Administrative Services at Clermont College, one of the University of Cincinnati’s regional colleges.  He alleged that the University’s rationale for its decision—that he acted inappropriately and unprofessionally by making an improper call to a member of the Board of Regents—was pretext for discriminatory animus.  Affirming the decision of the Ohio Court of Claims, the Court concluded that the Appellant failed to carry his burden of demonstrating pretext.  Even if Appellant was correct that that the university’s decision to terminate him was based on incorrect or incomplete information, that did not amount to unlawful discrimination.

2/16/2017
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Practice of Higher Education Law; Contract Administration; Research; Grants, Contracts and Sponsored Research

Emrit v. University of Arkansas (W.D. Ark. Feb. 13, 2017)

Order granting defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.  The University of Arkansas dismissed the plaintiff from a master’s program because he failed out.  Plaintiff alleged that his dismissal amounted to a breach of contract and gave rise to various tort claims.  Because the State was immune from suit in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment, the Court dismissed the action. 

2/15/2017
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First Amendment & Free Speech; Constitutional Issues

Gerlich and Furleigh v. Leath et al. (8th Circuit, Feb. 13, 2017)

Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion affirming summary judgment for the plaintiffs.  The Iowa State University (ISU) student chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws applied to use a university trademark pursuant to the ISU Trademark Guidelines (“Guidelines”).  ISU initially approved Plaintiffs’ application.  After receiving pressure from state officials, ISU revised the Guidelines to prohibit use of its trademark for “designs that suggest promotion of . . . drugs and drug paraphernalia” and thereafter rejected plaintiffs’ application.  Plaintiffs alleged that the revised Guidelines, as applied, violated their right to free speech.  The Eighth Circuit agreed, reasoning that ISU had created a limited public forum by allowing student groups to use its trademarks, and that ISU had engaged in viewpoint discrimination by subjecting plaintiffs’ designs to unique scrutiny and ultimately rejecting the designs without articulating a compelling governmental interest or a narrowly-tailored approach to justify the viewpoint-based decisions.  

2/15/2017
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Contract Administration; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Chenari v. George Washington University (D.C. Feb. 10, 2017)

Opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, affirming the district court’s award of summary judgment to the Defendant. George Washington University (GWU) dismissed Plaintiff from the Medical School for transferring answers from a test booklet to an answer sheet after time for the exam had expired.  Plaintiff alleged that because his conduct did not violate an express provision in the University Honor Code, GWU breached a contract when it dismissed him from the University.  Plaintiff also alleged that the University failed to accommodate his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  Acknowledging the long-standing principle that colleges and universities are entitled to deference in academic decisions, and noting that the Honor Code prohibited students from “violat[ing] any other commonly understood principles of academic honesty,” the Court found plaintiff’s breach of contract arguments to be unpersuasive. The Court also affirmed summary judgment in the Defendant’s favor on the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims because Plaintiff produced no evidence showing that the University denied a requested accommodation.
2/14/2017
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