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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; Retaliation; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Religious Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Yin v. Columbia International University (D.S.C., Sept. 26, 2016)

Pro se Plaintiff alleged that Columbia International University declined to renew her contract three months after she complained to the provost about mistreatment she had received based on her sex, race, and national origin. The University raised the ministerial exception, which “exempts from coverage of various employment laws the employment relationships between religious institutions and their 'ministers,’” as an affirmative defense to Plaintiff’s Title VII claims. Based on the Complaint, the Court failed to find any evidence that Plaintiff's duties involved "spreading the faith, church governance, supervision of a religious order, or supervision or participation in religious ritual and worship,” and thus concluded that Plaintiff was not a “minister” for the purpose of the exception. Therefore, the Court found that the ministerial exception did not bar Plaintiff's claims asserting violations of Title VII.

9/30/2016
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Retaliation; Race and National Origin Discrimination; First Amendment & Free Speech; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Constitutional Issues

Moss v. University of Notre Dame Du Lac (N.D. Ind., Sept. 27, 2016)

Plaintiff, an African-American male employed at the University of Notre Dame, claimed that he was denied a promotion, demoted, and threatened with termination after he publicly spoke out against on-campus harassment directed at an African-American student organization. Plaintiff alleged that the University, acting through its employee Erin Hoffman-Harding, discriminated against him on the basis of his race and unlawfully retaliated against him for exercising his right to free speech. The Court dismissed Plaintiff’s retaliation claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies but allowed his race discrimination claim under § 1983 to go forward. Although Notre Dame is a private University, the Court was willing to entertain Plaintiff’s argument that the University is a “company town” and thus may be liable for acting under color of state law to deprive Plaintiff of his constitutional rights. It also found that Plaintiff’s complaint contained a sufficiently cognizable claim that some of his speech occurred outside the context of his employment and thus may have been protected activity under the First Amendment.

9/30/2016
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Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence

John Doe v. Brown University (D.R.I., Sept. 28, 2016)

A hearing panel at Brown University found Plaintiff responsible for sexual misconduct against fellow student. Plaintiff filed suit alleging breach of contract based on improper application of the procedures outlined in the University’s code of conduct. Though the Court characterized the case as “a very close call,” it concluded that some of the procedures Brown employed in conducting Plaintiff’s hearing were not properly applied and thus “fell outside of a student's reasonable expectations.” The Court found that, although Brown had explicitly told Plaintiff that the old policy would be used, it provided the panel with a new written policy that was not in existence at the time of the incident, and the panel used that new policy to find Plaintiff responsible. Because these procedural errors “likely affected” the hearing panel's decision in Plaintiff’s case, the Court held that Plaintiff was entitled a new hearing.

9/30/2016
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Antitrust; Athletics Compliance (NCAA & more); Authorizations & Regulations; Athletics & Sports

Pugh v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (S.D. Ind., Sept. 27, 2016)

Plaintiff was a Division I athlete at Weber State University who received a full grant-in-aid during his first year of attendance. After Weber State informed Plaintiff that it would not renew his grant-in-aid for his second year, he began looking to transfer to another institution. However, because the NCAA's "year-in-residence" bylaw required Plaintiff to sit out of competition for a full season, he only had one year of competition left and was thus ineligible for grants-in-aid contingent on his ability to play two more years of NCAA football. Plaintiff filed a class action complaint against the NCAA asserting that its transfer bylaws violate the Sherman Act as an unreasonable restraint on trade. The Court deferred to legal precedent, holding that the NCAA’s eligibility bylaws—including the “year-in-residence” bylaw—are presumptively pro-competitive as a “justifiable means of fostering competition among amateur athletic teams.” And, in regard to Plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief, the Court found that Plaintiff did not have standing because he was no longer eligible to compete as a student-athlete when the case was filed.
9/28/2016
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Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Equal Protection; Constitutional Issues

Cole v. Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University (7th Cir., Sept. 27, 2016)

Plaintiff, an African-American employee of Northern Illinois University, alleged that he experienced race discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment--including the discovery of a hangman's noose in his newly assigned workspace--going back to 2009. He sued the University's Board of Trustees and eleven individual university employees asserting violations of Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment to the Board of Trustees, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Court found that Plaintiff failed to show a basis for employer liability for the alleged harassment, since the University initiated an investigation as soon as the noose incident was reported. He also failed to produce evidence that would allow a reasonable factfinder to conclude that he was subjected to disparate treatment by his employer based on his race. Finally, Plaintiff’s retaliation claim failed because he did not offer evidence to indicate that he had engaged in protected activity.

9/28/2016
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Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Jones v. College of Southern Maryland (D. Md., Sept. 23, 2016)

Plaintiff filed suit against her employer, the College of Southern Maryland, claiming interference with her Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rights and retaliation for her attempts to exercise them. Plaintiff had requested FMLA leave on two occasions in the form of a modified and reduced course load.  Though the College agreed to a modified and reduced schedule that differed from the one Plaintiff sought, less than two months after her second FMLA request, the College notified her of its decision not to renew her contract. The Court concluded that what Plaintiff sought was not FMLA leave but rather “a schedule that enabled her to be home as much as she needed to care for her son without taking FMLA leave,” and therefore Plaintiff was not entitled to the particular FMLA benefits she sought on either occasion. However, although the combination of the scheduling concerns, withdrawal rates, ongoing student complaints, and concerns expressed by other professors, provided a legitimate non-retaliatory reason for the College not to renew Plaintiff’s contract, Plaintiff provided enough evidence to convince a reasonable jury that the College’s stated reasons for nonrenewal were mere pretext for retaliation. 

9/28/2016
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Practice of Higher Education Law; FERPA; Students; Freedom of Information & Public Record Laws; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence

Krakauer v. Montana (Mo., Sept. 19, 2016)

The Montana Commissioner of Higher Education denied Plaintiff’s request for records concerning the expulsion of a University of Montana student involved in a sexual misconduct case, claiming that because the records referenced the student by name, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) precluded their release. Plaintiff claimed that the records must be made available under the exception that provides for the release of final results of a disciplinary hearing, as long as the hearing resulted in a finding that the student violated the institution’s rules or policies. Because the record before the Court did not indicate whether the violation was found to have occurred, the Court remanded the case for an in camera review of the documents in question so that the district court could determine whether the FERPA exception applied. It also ordered the district court to re-conduct the balancing test under the Montana Constitution to determine which records, if any, could be released and whether redactions might be appropriate.

9/28/2016
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Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation Discrimination; Title IX; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence

Board of Education of the Highland Local School District v. U.S. Department of Education (S.D. Ohio, Sept. 26, 2016)

The U.S. Department of Education found that Highland Local School District had discriminated against Jane Doe, an eleven-year-old transgender girl, on the basis of her sex by refusing to permit her to use the girls’ restroom in accordance with her professed gender identity. Highland sought to enjoin the Department from enforcing the antidiscrimination provisions of Title IX against it, and Doe sought to enjoin Highland from enforcing its policy and permit her to use the girls’ restroom. Recognizing the Plaintiff's likely success on the merits of her claim as well as irreparable harm in delaying the order, the Court granted Plaintiff’s motion and denied Highland’s motion.

9/28/2016
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