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

Resolution Agreement Between the Office for Civil Rights and Rutgers University-New Brunswick

Voluntary Resolution Agreement entered into between the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and Rutgers University regarding the involuntary withdrawal of a student who posed a substantial risk of harm.  The cover letter and accompanying Resolution Agreement deemed Rutgers’ “Safety Intervention Policy” (“the Policy”) to be facially neutral.  This Policy authorizes Rutgers to intervene or involuntarily withdraw students “who pose a credible substantial risk of harm to individuals within the University or to the University community; or substantially impede the lawful activities, the educational process, or the proper activities or functions of other members of the University Community.”  It also sets forth criteria for university officials to conduct individualized assessments based on “reasonable judgment,” calls on a case-by-case basis for medical and psychological evaluations to be conducted by independent and objective health professionals, and allows reasonable conditions to be placed on a student’s return to campus. The terms of the Resolution Agreement require Rutgers to conduct an individualized assessment, pursuant to its existing Policy, to ascertain whether the complainant can safely return to campus, and whether Rutgers deems her eligible to return to campus or not, specifies how missed coursework will either be made up or denoted on the student’s transcript. 

Age Discrimination; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Main v. Tulane Univ. (E.D. La. May 7, 2018)

Order granting Defendant’s motion for summary judgment.  Main (Plaintiff), a 60-year old former employee of Defendant with a PTSD diagnosis, sued claiming age discrimination, disability discrimination, and retaliation after her position as a Senior Curator was terminated as the result of a restructuring of museum staff at Tulane University (Defendant).  The court found that Plaintiff did not create an issue of fact related to Defendant’s argument that she was not qualified for the newly created curator position and that, notably, there was “no evidence in the record to support any causal connection between the elimination of Plaintiff's position and her age.”  Regarding her disability discrimination claim, the Court noted that Plaintiff admitted she did not request a disability accommodation, found no merit to her confidential medical information disclosure claim, and found that Plaintiff’s “contention that she was discharged because of her PTSD diagnosis is even more bereft of evidence than her age claim.” The court similarly rejected Plaintiff’s claim of retaliation due to “the complete absence of any evidence whatsoever to suggest that retaliation played any role in the decision to eliminate Plaintiff's position.”

Equal Protection; Disability Discrimination; Age Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; First Amendment & Free Speech; Constitutional Issues

Committe v. Yen, et al. (N.D. N.Y. May 7, 2018)

Memorandum Decision and Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Pro se Plaintiff, a sixty-six year old man with physical disabilities, alleged under the equal protection clause pursuant to a section 1983 claim that State University of New York (SUNY) discriminated against him based on age and disability when it failed to hire him for a tenure-track position and visiting assistant professor position. Plaintiff further alleged that SUNY violated his “right to academic freedom under the due process clause” by requiring him to participate in a teaching presentation as part of his interview. The court dismissed Plaintiff’s disability discrimination claim because disability is not a protected class under the equal protection clause. The court further dismissed Plaintiff’s age discrimination claim because he failed to allege facts that supported an inference of age discrimination and failed to rebut Defendants’ legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for hiring other younger applicants—namely, that Plaintiff received negative evaluations on his teaching presentation. Plaintiff’s academic freedom claim was dismissed because it was unclear to the court how SUNY’s interview requirement violated any right to academic freedom under First Amendment jurisprudence.

Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration; Practice of Higher Education Law; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Ticer v. Young, et al. (N.D. Cal. May 4, 2018)

Order granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a disabled student who was prone to “debilitating fear and anxiety related to other people,” alleged under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and state law that San Jose State University (SJSU) discriminated against him and intentionally inflicted emotional distress (IIED) while he attended its engineering program. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Young—a professor in the Biomedical, Chemical, and Material Engineering department—refused to reasonably accommodate his disability and subjected him to years of disparaging and discouraging remarks, which resulted in his taking a medical leave of absence, his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, and his disqualification from the engineering program without notice. At issue was whether Plaintiff’s disability discrimination and tort claims were subject to equitable tolling due to his mental disability and lack of notice about his disqualification. After reviewing the relevant case law, the court distinguished Plaintiff’s circumstances from the high bar of “incapacitation” required to benefit from equitable tolling. Namely, Plaintiff did not assert in his complaint that despite knowing his legal rights, he failed to bring his claims because of his mental disability. However, the court allowed Plaintiff’s claim based on his disqualification without notice to proceed since it was not challenged by Defendants, while also allowing Plaintiff to amend his IIED claim to clarify that he wished to hold SJSU vicariously liable. 

Disability Discrimination

Neal v. University of North Carolina and East Carolina University (E.D.N.C. May 1, 2018)

Order granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a graduate student in East Carolina University (ECU)’s Social Work Program, alleged that Defendants discriminated against her on account of her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act (RA) when dismissing her for “fail[ing] to meet the standards and competencies required to perform as an ethical, professional, and knowledgeable social worker.” Plaintiff exhibited “mild mania” and ECU professors, noticing her erratic behavior, questioned her ability to complete a required field coursework, as well as the overall soundness of her professional judgment. After finding that Plaintiff sufficiently alleged that she was qualified to continue participating in the social work program, the court dismissed her RA claim but allowed her  ADA claim to proceed.  Plaintiff did not plead that her dismissal was “solely because of” her disability (as would be required for an RA claim) but did sufficiently plead  that her disability was a motivating factor in her dismissal, thus stating an actionable claim under the ADA.  The court also allowed Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim to proceed, but limited the claim to Defendants’ alleged failure to allow her to continue her field course and field placement.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA); Retaliation; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Sex Discrimination; Age Discrimination; Disability Discrimination

Gross v. Morgan State Univ. (D. Md. April 19, 2018)

Memorandum granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a former employee of Morgan State University (MSU), alleged that MSU and her supervisor discriminated and retaliated against her in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Equal Pay Act (EPA), Title VII, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Plaintiff also brought claims of negligent hiring, retention, and supervision against MSU under state law. The court found that Eleventh Amendment immunity barred Plaintiff’s ADEA and ADA claims, while Plaintiff’s claims under Title VII and GINA lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. Specifically, Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies by neglecting to mention race, national origin, gender, disabilities, and genetic information in her administrative complaint. Plaintiff’s retaliation claims under Title VII and GINA also failed because she did not allege that she engaged in a protected activity within the purview of the two statutes. Last, the court found no factual allegations to support Plaintiff’s claim under the EPA and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s remaining state law claims.

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

Davis v. Ky. Cmty. & Technical Coll. Sys. (E.D. Ky. April 18, 2018)

Opinion and Order granting Defendant’s Partial Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a statistics instructor for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) who was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and who suffered from panic and anxiety disorder, alleged under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Kentucky Wage and Hour Act, and Kentucky Civil Rights Act that KCTCS failed to accommodate her disability, interfered with her use of medical  leave, illegally withheld her pay, and terminated her in retaliation for filing reports of discrimination.   The court dismissed Plaintiff’s ADA and FMLA claims pursuant to Eleventh Amendment immunity, concluding that Defendant’s written policies and procedures, which affirmed KCTCS’ commitment to comply with federal law, did not waive immunity. Plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief—specifically to have KCTCS reinstate her position, award her the promotion she was previously denied, grant her distance learning request, and restore her benefits—in connection to her FMLA claim was also barred by the Eleventh Amendment because Plaintiff failed to bring the action against state officials, as required by the statute. The court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s remaining state law claims.

Retaliation; Disability Discrimination; First Amendment & Free Speech; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Constitutional Issues

Gamino v. Yosemite Community College District, et al. (E.D. Cal. April 16, 2018)

Order and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge to grant-in-part and deny-in-part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a student at Yosemite Community College (YCC) who suffers from hypoplastic right heart syndrome, alleged that Defendants discriminated against him based on disability; retaliated against him for filing a discrimination complaint; and deprived him of his right to free speech and privacy, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act (RA), and the First Amendment pursuant to section 1983. Plaintiff’s claims arise from his interactions with two YCC instructors who purportedly required him to take tests without accommodations and who made certain remarks about his disability in class, as well as YCC administrators who responded to his complaints. The court found that Plaintiff failed to plausibly allege disability discrimination or retaliation under the ADA and RA because he failed to show that his medical condition “substantially limit[ed] one or more major life activity,” or that he was “excluded from participation in or otherwise discriminated against with regard to education.” Plaintiff’s ADA and RA personal liability claims against Defendants in their individual capacities were dismissed because the statutes did not allow such claims, while the Eleventh Amendment barred Plaintiff’s claims for monetary damages. Among Plaintiff’s section 1983 claims, the court found that only his First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Peterson could proceed.