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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.

Dates
Sex Discrimination; Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Texas v. United States (N.D. Tex., Aug. 21, 2016)

Plaintiffs challenged the authority of the U.S. Department of Education to issue its Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students. Specifically, Plaintiffs argued that the Department’s interpretation of the term “sex” to include, and therefore prohibit discrimination based on gender identity was contrary to the statutory text, congressional intent, and the plain meaning of the term. The Court issued a nationwide injunction, finding that Defendants’ reinterpretation of the term “sex” through a Dear Colleague Letter likely violated the Administrative Procedures Act’s because the Department bypassed the required notice and comment period to issue substantive guidance that “unilaterally change[d] the law to suit their policy preferences.” The Court concluded that this reinterpretation, coupled with Defendants’ actions to enforce these guidelines, would cause Plaintiffs to suffer irreparable harm in excess of any potential harm to Defendants. 

8/22/2016
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Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Hartline v. National University (E.D. Ca., Aug. 18, 2016)

Pro se Plaintiff filed suit claiming that Defendant National University counseled him toward lesser career objectives due to his disability, in violation of regulations under the Rehabilitation Act that prohibit the steering of disabled students to more restrictive career options. The University moved to dismiss. The magistrate judge found that, although Plaintiff’s complaint could be clarified, it contained sufficient allegations of harm and damages to establish standing—namely, the loss of tuition payments and wasted time and effort. 

8/22/2016
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Race and National Origin Discrimination; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Palazzolo v. Harris-Stowe State University (E.D. Mo., Aug. 18, 2016)

Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Harris-Stowe State University terminated his employment based on his race and in retaliation for his complaints of racial discrimination, and for taking leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Because Plaintiff did not stipulate whether he was suing the University’s Board members in their official or individual capacities, or both, the Court construed the complaint as alleging only official capacity claims against the Board members. And, since claims against the Board members in their official capacities are considered claims against the public employer, the Court dismissed these claims as redundant to Plaintiff’s claims against the University. 

8/22/2016
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FERPA; Students; HIPAA; First Amendment & Free Speech; Faculty & Staff; Due Process; Equal Protection; Constitutional Issues

Chandler v. Forsyth Technical Community College (M.D.N.C., Aug. 19, 2016)

Pro se Plaintiff and her sister were students at Forsyth Technical Community College when an argument took place between Plaintiff and her professor, who refused to allow Plaintiff to sit next to her sister during a partner activity. As a result of the incident, Plaintiff participated in a counseling session. She later filed suit alleging violations of her rights to free speech and free association, due process, equal protection, and privacy under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); discrimination; falsification of official documents; and other state-based tort claims. The Court dismissed each of these claims. In reference to the First Amendment claims, the Court held, “[A] teacher restricting what could be said in an ongoing class . . . and behavior in the classroom . . . is reasonable in context of the need to keep order in a classroom, to further the educational mission, and to allow the teacher to promote her lesson plan.” 

8/22/2016
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Title IX; Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Sex Discrimination; Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Fox v. Pittsburgh State University (D. Kan., Aug. 17, 2016)

A former custodial specialist at Defendant Pittsburgh State University (PSU) filed suit alleging that her supervisor sexually harassed her over a period of time, causing her to experience panic attacks. The Court denied Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Plaintiff’s evidence was sufficient to allege that severe and pervasive harassment took place and that a genuine issue of fact existed as to whether she reported the harassment six months before PSU conducted an investigation. Because the answer to whether PSU’s response to Plaintiff’s report was adequate depends on when PSU had notice of Plaintiff’s complaint, the Court allowed Plaintiff’s Title VII and Title IX employer liability claims to proceed as well. However, the Court held that no reasonable jury could find that PSU management personnel orchestrated or condoned retaliatory harassment by Plaintiff's co-workers and thus dismissed the retaliation claims.

8/19/2016
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Collective Bargaining; First Amendment & Free Speech; Faculty & Staff; Constitutional Issues; Retaliation

Lifter v. Cleveland State University (N.D. Ohio, Aug. 17, 2016)

Plaintiffs Gelman and Lifter, a husband and wife who were employed by Defendant Cleveland State University (CSU), claimed that CSU terminated Lifter and reduced the size of Gelman’s merit pay raise in retaliation for Gelman’s organization of a collective bargaining unit within the CSU law school. On Gelman’s count, the Court found that no issue of material fact existed as to whether Gelman's union activities were a motivating factor in the amount of the merit raise CSU awarded him because CSU provided evidence indicating that the reduction in merit pay was due to a calculation error in the initial amounts. Similarly, on Lifter’s count, the Court found that ample evidence indicated that CSU terminated Lifter due to mandated budget cuts rather than in retaliation for her husband’s unionizing activities. 

8/19/2016
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Grants, Contracts and Sponsored Research; Research

Notice Regarding the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education Annual Performance Report

Notice published by the U.S. Department of Education requesting clearance for an annual performance report to be used with First in the World (FITW) Programs 84.116F and 84.16X under the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). Higher education institutions and related agencies may apply for grants under the FIPSE through the FITW Program. The Department is requesting clearance for this performance report in order to evaluate and assess FITW-funded programs to determine whether grantees will continue to receive funds. Interested parties may submit comments on or before September 19, 2016.

8/19/2016
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Financial Aid; Students

Midyear Update Report on Student Loan Complaints by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Midyear update report on student loan complaints was released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The report analyzes complaints submitted by student loan borrowers from October 2015 through May 2016. According to the report, borrowers faced various obstacles when applying for or recertifying income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, including poor customer service, unexpected delays, lost paperwork, and inconsistent or inaccurate application processing. Recommendations for addressing these issues are included in the report.

8/19/2016
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