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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
Foreign Students; Employment; Immigration & International Activities

Letter from Higher Education Associations to the Department of Homeland Security on the Suspension of H-1B Premium Processing (Mar. 22, 2017)

Letter from five higher education associations to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regarding the Department of Homeland Security’s announcement that USCIS is suspending premium processing of H1-B visa petitions beginning April 3. The letter notes that the delay will disproportionately harm colleges and universities, because they operate on an academic calendar, and urges USCIS to reconsider the suspension. 

3/23/2017
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Retaliation; Faculty & Staff

Clark v. Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (S.D. Ga. Mar. 20, 2017)

Order denying the Board of Regents’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a former podiatrist and assistant professor of orthopedics, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against a department administrator for alleged sex- and race-based discrimination. After she was terminated, Plaintiff filed suit against the System’s Board of Regents, claiming that Defendant declined to renew her contract in retaliation for the EEOC complaint and that her supervisor interfered with her ability to obtain future employment. Based upon the close temporal proximity between Plaintiff’s filing of the EEOC complaint and the lack of performance deficiencies prior to the filing, the Court found that Plaintiff provided adequate evidence such that a rational jury could conclude that Defendant declined to renew Plaintiff's contract in retaliation for her complaint .

3/23/2017
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Race and National Origin Discrimination; Sex Discrimination; Age Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Krowell v. University of the Incarnate Word (W.D. Tex. Mar. 20, 2017)

Order granting the University of the Incarnate Word’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a Colombian-American woman over age fifty, applied for and was denied admission to the University’s Master of Health Administration program. She filed suit claiming that she was not selected due to her race, national origin, gender, and age. Because Plaintiff failed to comply with the Age Discrimination Act’s pre-suit notice requirements, her age discrimination claim was not properly before the Court. Moreover, Plaintiff neither alleged nor provided evidence to indicate that others outside Plaintiff's protected class were treated more favorably than she was, admitting in a deposition that she “is not privy” to that information. In light of the absence of evidence supporting this element of Plaintiff's prima facie case, the Court granted summary judgment to the University on Plaintiff's Title VI claims.

3/23/2017
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Veterans Discrimination; Sex Discrimination; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Age Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Blige v. City University of New York (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 21, 2017)

Memorandum Decision and Order adopting the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation recommending that the Court dismiss Plaintiff’s claims. Plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, the City University of New York (CUNY), and various University administrators, alleging discrimination the basis of race, color, sex, military status, and arrest record in violation of Title VII, as well as various state law claims. The Court adopted the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation that Plaintiff’s age discrimination claim against CUNY be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, since CUNY is entitled to sovereign immunity. Plaintiff also failed to exhaust his administrative remedies for his age and race discrimination claims, and his sex discrimination claim failed to create an inference of disparate treatment because the comparators Plaintiff provided were also male. Finally, because neither the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) nor Title VII provide for individual liability against the agents of an employer, the Court dismissed all claims against individual Defendants in their personal capacities.

3/23/2017
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Title IX; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence

Leader v. Harvard University Board of Overseers (D. Mass. Mar. 17, 2017)

Memorandum and Order granting in part and denying in part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a student at Harvard College, reported to college administrators that she was subjected to sexual assault and harassment both during and after a year-long dating relationship she maintained with another student. The College opened an investigation, but Plaintiff claims that the harassment escalated after she reported the initial misconduct. Plaintiff sued the Board, the President, and Fellows of Harvard College, alleging violations of Title IX along with state law claims. The Court found that Plaintiff had sufficiently alleged a Title IX claim under the deliberate indifference theory at this stage in the litigation because, even though Defendants investigated Plaintiff’s complaints, institutions may be required to take further steps to address post-reporting harassment. The Court also allowed Plaintiff’s negligence claim to proceed but dismissed her premises liability claim. 

3/22/2017
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Retaliation; Faculty & Staff

Carvalho-Grevious v. Delaware State University (3d Cir. Mar. 21, 2017)

Opinion and Order reversing the district court’s Order dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint and remanding for further proceedings. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Delaware State unlawfully terminated her term as department and then failed to renew her contract in retaliation for her complaints concerning a dean’s alleged discriminatory comments.  The Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that, at the prima facie stage of a Title VII retaliation claim, plaintiffs are only required to provide evidence sufficient to raise the inference that their engagement in a protected activity was the likely reason—as opposed to the but-for reason—for the adverse employment action. It thus reversed the district court’s ruling based on the “but-for” evidentiary standard and remanded the case so that the district court could adjudicate the matter using the appropriate standard. 

3/22/2017
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Sex Discrimination; Religious Discrimination; First Amendment & Free Speech; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Constitutional Issues

Richardson v. Northwest Christian University (D. Or. March 16, 2017)

Plaintiff, a Professor of Exercise Science, was fired after she announced that she was pregnant and cohabitating with the father of her child, in violation of Northwest Christian University’s (NCU) implied policy that precluded employees from cohabitating out of wedlock.  The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment.  As a preliminary matter, the Court disagreed that the ministerial exception and the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine shielded the defendant from liability.  The Court also denied Defendant’s motion as to pregnancy discrimination, concluding that a reasonable juror could draw an inference of discriminatory animus if it were to find that the “defendant was less concerned about its employees having sex outside of marriage and more concerned about people knowing its employees were having sex outside of marriage.” Both Defendant’s enforcement mechanism—that is, approaching pregnant women to inquire about living arrangements—as well as its concern that Plaintiff’s pregnancy, once visible, would signal to others that she was not abiding by university policy, could evidence disproportionate enforcement. The Court granted Plaintiff’s Motion as to marital status discrimination under Oregon law.

3/21/2017
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Retaliation; Faculty & Staff

Burton v. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin, et al. (7th Cir. March 17, 2017)

Plaintiff, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, sued the Board of Regents and three individual defendants for retaliating against her in violation of Title VII and Title IX.  After Plaintiff reported inappropriate correspondence between a professor and a student, she alleged that she was subjected to retaliatory actions, which included criticisms and withdrawal of support for a cybersecurity curriculum. Affirming the decision of the district court, the 7th Circuit concluded that neither action was materially adverse for the purpose of a Title IX retaliation claim, emphasizing that “[n]ot everything that makes an employee unhappy is an actionable adverse action.”  Plaintiff later filed an EEOC complaint and a lawsuit, again alleging that she was subjected to retaliatory actions subsequent to the filings. Even if the purported retaliatory actions were deemed to be materially adverse (the Court said unfulfilled disciplinary threats were not materially adverse), and even if the six-month gap between the protected activities and the adverse actions was sufficient to establish causation (a six month gap does not preclude, but substantially weakens claims), Plaintiff failed to carry her burden of proving pretext because courts do not “second-guess” well documented personnel-management decisions, like the ones advanced by Plaintiff as purported evidence of retaliatory animus. 

3/21/2017
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