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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Race and National Origin Discrimination; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

NACUBO “What Did I Miss in Washington?” May 31 – June 11, 2018

Summary from the National Association of College & University Business Officers (NACUBO) on legislative and regulatory actions that occurred between May 31 – June 11, 2018. This summary highlights the introduction of new legislation that targets college and university endowments, the Senate confirmation of Kenneth L. Marcus to serve as assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, and updates to the Higher Education Act Reauthorization Bill (PROSPER Act).

Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Disability Discrimination; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Race and National Origin Discrimination

Stinson v. City University of New York, et al. (S.D.N.Y. June 6, 2018)

Opinion and Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, an African-American Facilities Coordinator at City University of New York (CUNY) who suffered from depression, alleged that Defendants discriminated against him on account of his race and disability by involuntarily transferring him to another department, retaliated against him for filing discrimination complaints and for taking medical leave, and created a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act (RA), the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and state law. The court found that the Eleventh Amendment barred Plaintiff’s ADA, FMLA, and state law claims. The court further found that Plaintiff’s discrimination claims failed because the stray comments made by Plaintiff’s employer and supervisor did not sufficiently show discriminatory intent. Plaintiff’s retaliation claims under Title VII, the FMLA, and state law failed for lack of evidence. Although Plaintiff’s termination occurred shortly after he filed a complaint, a course of progressive discipline (two formal disciplinary hearings and two suspensions) began long before Plaintiff engaged in any protected activity. In dismissing Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, the court stated that not only did the allegations fail to amount to “severe or pervasive conduct,” but Plaintiff also failed to show that the alleged adverse conduct was connected to race or disability. Last, the court dismissed Plaintiff’s RA claim because he failed to oppose the motion to dismiss.

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.

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

Kortyna v. Lafayette College (3rd Cir. March 30, 2018)

Opinion affirming the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims.  Plaintiff, a tenured physics professor at Lafayette College (LC), alleged that LC discriminated against him based on sex and disability, retaliated against him, violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and breached his employment contract when LC terminated him for retaliating against two students who reported that he had sexually harassed them.  The court dismissed Plaintiff’s discrimination claims after finding no plausible evidence to suggest that he was fired for an unlawful reason.  The court noted that Plaintiff’s FMLA retaliation claim “fare[d] no better,” since the evidence suggested that Plaintiff took medical leave “to try to initiate a whole new, other disciplinary process,” and Plaintiff continued to retaliate against one of his accusers while his disciplinary proceeding was halted on account of medical leave.  Last, Plaintiff failed to show that he suffered harm in support of his breach of contract claim.

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

Boone v. Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina (M.D. N.C. March 30, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a former University of North Carolina (UNC) campus police officer, alleged that Defendant failed to accommodate her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act (RA), interfered with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and retaliated against her under the FMLA by terminating her. The court dismissed Plaintiff’s failure to accommodate claim under the ADA because Title II did not apply to public employment discrimination claims, but allowed her analogous claim under the RA to proceed because the facts she alleged allowed the court to reasonably infer that she requested a reasonable accommodation and UNC refused to grant her one. The court also allowed Plaintiff’s FMLA retaliation claim to proceed, noting that the close temporal proximity (approximately two months or less) between her termination and attempt to return to work sufficiently showed a causal connection for plausibly establishing a prima facie case. However, the court dismissed Plaintiff’s FMLA interference claim because she failed to show that UNC denied her benefits she was entitled to under the FMLA. Specifically, her right to job restoration expired at the end of her FMLA leave period and those rights were not extended when her supervisor allowed her to continue to stay on leave past her FMLA period. Moreover, UNC was not required to restore her to her position after a psychological evaluation found her unfit to return. Consistent with the RA and FMLA, the court denied Plaintiff’s requests for punitive damages.

Contract Administration; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Disability Discrimination; Practice of Higher Education Law; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Grant v. UMDNJ-UCHC-Rutgers Univ. (D.N.J. Feb. 21, 2018)

Opinion granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgement.  Plaintiff, a licensed practical nurse, was counseled and received a warning for several unscheduled absences and instances of tardiness, before applying for and being granted Medical/FMLA leave, which retroactively covered only a portion of the absences.  Plaintiff failed to return to work after the leave period ended, was suspended for the absences incurred prior to the approved leave, and was subsequently terminated by Defendant after several additional unscheduled absences.  Plaintiff filed suit alleging disability discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA), and the ADA, as well as breach of contract.  Regarding the disability discrimination claims, the court found that Plaintiff’s “chronic attendance violations” constituted “a legitimate, nondiscriminatory rationale for terminating Plaintiff” and that Plaintiff did not demonstrate that the rationale was pretextual.  In dismissing Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim, the court found that Defendant followed its Attendance Control Policy and Plaintiff did not raise a genuine issue of material fact to suggest otherwise.

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

Maffeo v. Butler University (S.D. Ind. February 20, 2018)

Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, an assistant professor and director of the Health Education Center at Butler University (Defendant), underwent shoulder surgery and was granted leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Plaintiff was unable to return to work at the end of the FMLA leave and requested and was granted additional unpaid time off as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff and Defendant met periodically during Plaintiff’s ADA leave to assess Plaintiff’s condition and her fitness to return to work. In December, 2015, Plaintiff asked to be permitted to work from home for the Spring 2016 semester. Defendant responded to this request by stating its need for documentation from Plaintiff’s physician regarding Plaintiff’s ability to return to work. In January 2016, Plaintiff’s physician cleared her to return to work on a part-time basis but only with the accommodation of working only from home. The parties met again in February 2016, at which time Defendant informed Plaintiff that additional time off through May 1 was a necessary accommodation because there was insufficient work available to allow Plaintiff to return to work in the middle of the semester. Plaintiff returned to work with accommodations after the Spring 2016 semester. After filing a charge of discrimination with the U.S. EEOC, Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant alleging disability discrimination and retaliation under the ADA because Defendant had not permitted the Plaintiff to return to work for the Spring 2016 semester. The Court found that Plaintiff’s discrimination claim failed because at the time of Defendant’s determination Plaintiff was unable to work on campus and her schedule was uncertain, and regular on-campus attendance was an essential part of Plaintiff’s position. The Court held, therefore, that Plaintiff was not a “qualified individual” within the meaning of the ADA because she could not perform the essential functions of the position. The Court further found that the evidence did not show that Defendant took an adverse employment action against Plaintiff so there was not sufficient evidence to support a claim for retaliation.  

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

Sanders v. Rodriguez, et al. (S.D. Tex. Feb. 5, 2018)

Opinion granting Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a tenured professor at the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA), alleged that UTPA violated the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) by failing to place her “in the same or equivalent position” after she returned from FMLA leave and by retaliating against her when it disciplined her for engaging in unauthorized outside employment and denied her later employment with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), a newly-created university stemming from UTPA’s legislative dissolution. The court found that all of Plaintiff’s claims were time-barred, with the exception of UTRGV’s rejection of Plaintiff’s employment application. Though the statute of limitations had expired, the court turned to the merits as independent grounds for the decision, holding that Plaintiff had been restored to the same or an equivalent position at the conclusion of her FMLA leave.  Even though Plaintiff was assigned to teach online courses, she retained the same title, pay, and job duties, and it was undisputed that Plaintiff had specifically requested to teach online courses.  Plaintiff’s FMLA retaliation claim failed because she could not establish causation, nor pretext to rebut Defendants’ legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for disciplining her and rejecting her for the UTRGV position. Last, the court found that qualified immunity protected UTPA’s Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs in his personal capacity.