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.

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Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Faki v. The Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama (N.D. Ala. November 9, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a non-tenured instructor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) proceeding pro se, alleged that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her disability in violation of the Rehabilitation Act and retaliated against her for complaining about “discriminatory conduct regarding disability” by terminating her. The court found that Plaintiff could not establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination because Plaintiff received unfavorable student evaluations long before she reported a disability or requested an accommodation, nor could she allege sufficient evidence to demonstrate pretext against Defendant’s legitimate, non-discriminatory explanation for her termination, which cited student complaints about Plaintiff’s poor teaching performance and UAB’s decision to reduce Spanish courses due to low enrollment. 

Race and National Origin Discrimination; Age Discrimination; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Sims v. The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Nov. 1, 2017)

Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a sixty-four year old African American custodian for Columbia University (CU), alleged that CU discriminated against him based on race, age, and disability,  created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against him for complaining about discrimination in violation of New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). The court found that Plaintiff failed to show that the terms and conditions of his employment were discriminatory or that similarly-situated custodians not in Plaintiff's protected classes were treated more favorably, even under the more liberal “mixed-motive” standard of New York state law that requires Plaintiffs to show unlawful discrimination as just one, among many, of the motivating factors behind an employer’s adverse action. Furthermore, the court found that the facts supporting Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim—namely, racial epithets made on three occasions over nine years and purported age-related statements from his supervisor and co-workers—were either isolated incidents that did not pervade the work environment or were too vague to infer bias. Last, the court found that Plaintiff’s retaliation claim could not proceed because Plaintiff's sole complaint was investigated by CU and the subsequent retaliatory actions he alleged were not causally connected.

Foundations & Affiliated Entities; Contract Administration; Practice of Higher Education Law; Governance; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Huffman v. University Medical Center Management Corp., et al. (E.D. La. Oct. 31, 2017)

Order and Reasons denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a deaf individual who communicates primarily in American Sign Language, alleged that Defendants’ failure to provide her an interpreter while she was admitted to University Medical Center, a full-service hospital owned by Defendant Louisiana State University (LSU) but operated by a private entity through a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement, resulted in her receiving substandard medical treatment in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Affordable Care Act, and the American Disabilities Act. The issue before the court was whether LSU’s contract with Defendant Louisiana Children’s Medical Center (LCMC) and Defendant University Medical Center Management Corporation (UMCMC), to provide medical services that LSU was authorized to provide, qualified as a “service, program, or activity” of LSU. The court found that Plaintiff had alleged sufficient facts to proceed and in its reasoning, adopted 5th Circuit precedent and regulatory guidance that imputed liability to state entities when they have contracted with a private entity to provide services and the private entity denies a person services because of a disability.

Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Entine v. Lissner (S.D. Ohio October 30, 2017)

Order granting Plaintiff’s Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). Plaintiff, an Ohio State University (OSU) student and member of a sorority, sought to enjoin OSU’s ADA Coordinator from either removing her from the sorority house or requiring her to relinquish her dog. Facts are disputed about whether the dog was a service animal or an emotional support animal, and whether another resident of the sorority house requested an accommodation to live in a dog-free environment due to allergies that exacerbated her Crohn’s disease. The court found that Plaintiff sufficiently showed immediacy and irreparable harm because, without the TRO, she was required to either move out of the house, resign as Vice President of the sorority, and risk the permanent loss of her room assignment, or choose to continue living there without her dog. The court further found that by prioritizing a sorority housemate’s request to accommodate her allergy, solely because the housemate had signed a lease before Plaintiff, was not in OSU’s written policies or procedures. 

Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Disability Discrimination

Toma v. University of Hawaii (D. Haw. October 23, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. Plaintiff, a medical student at the University of Hawaii who suffered from depression and hypothyroidism, brought disability discrimination claims under the American with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act after the Director of the Office of Student Affairs denied Plaintiff’s request for continued medical leave, encouraged Plaintiff to either withdraw or face expulsion for academic underperformance, and ultimately referred Plaintiff’s matter to a panel that expelled Plaintiff for academic malperformance . The court found that Plaintiff’s claims were time barred, hinging its analysis on a determination of whether Plaintiff’s claims were made possible by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) or whether they could have been brought under the prior iteration of the ADA.   Because Plaintiff could have brought his claims under the original ADA and Rehabilitation Act, which carry a two-year statute of limitations, the Court awarded judgment to the Defendant.  Notably, the court found that Plaintiff’s depression fit within the ADA definition of disability because its 4-6 year duration was a “permanent or long term” physical or mental impairment that substantially limited a major life activity, rather than an episodic impairment. Also, the Court rejected Plaintiff’s claim that medication as a “corrective measure” would have barred him from filing a claim under the ADA. 

Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Harris v. Arizona Board of Regents (D. Ariz. Aug. 25, 2017)

Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a former student at Arizona State University (ASU), was dismissed from the institution’s Masters of Social Work program for unprofessional behavior. Plaintiff sought review of his dismissal in a state superior court, which granted with prejudice a motion to dismiss by the defendants in that case. Proceeding pro se, he later sued ASU and the Arizona Board of Regents, as well as two faculty members and a University administrator in their official capacities, alleging that Defendants refused to accommodate his disability, retaliated against him for seeking accommodations and complaining about not receiving them, and ultimately dismissed him from the program because of his disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Here, the court found that res judicata barred Plaintiff’s claims. The state court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s first ADA suit with prejudice constituted a final judgment on the merits, the discrepancy between the particular ASU employees sued in their official capacities in each case did not defeat privity between the parties, and Plaintiff’s state court claims arose from the same transaction and occurrence as the case at bar. 

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Retaliation; Faculty & Staff; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Elizabeth Tarpley v. City Colleges of Chicago (N.D. Ill. August 22, 2017)

Opinion and Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a Director of Information Technology at City Colleges of Chicago, alleged that Defendant failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation, engaged in discrimination, and retaliated against her in violation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as interfered with her rights and retaliated against her for exercising her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Plaintiff took continuous and intermittent FMLA leave and made two requests to work from home as a reasonable accommodation for her disability. The court found no evidence that Defendant refused to provide her with an accommodation because Plaintiff’s first request was quickly followed by her request for a return-to-work authorization, mooting the request, and her second request could not be fully considered before Plaintiff’s resignation five days later. The court further found that Plaintiff failed to plead facts sufficient to show she suffered an adverse employment action for her ADA discrimination and retaliation claims to succeed. Additionally, the court found that Plaintiff’s FMLA interference claim failed because she took all the FMLA leave she was entitled to and Defendant approved all FMLA leave she requested.  Lastly, the court found that Plaintiff’s FMLA retaliation claim also failed because she did not provide any evidence of any actionable adverse employment action. Finding no genuine issue as to any material fact, the court entered judgement for City Colleges on all remaining counts and terminated the case. 

Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Distressed & Suicidal Students; Disability Discrimination; Retaliation

Noelle Ibrahim v. Lucas Pena (S.D.N.Y. August 21, 2017)

Order granting Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a Columbia University alumna suffering from psychiatric illness, alleged that the University violated the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), and several state laws, when it refused to accommodate her request for counseling services and barred her from campus. The court held that Plaintiff failed to plausibly allege that the University discriminated against her based on her disability, since Plaintiff neither identified a reasonable accommodation nor any action on Defendant’s part that denied her full and equal access to Columbia’s services. Further, the court found that Plaintiff failed to assert a plausible ADA retaliation claim because she provided no proof of engaging in a “protected activity.” The court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims.