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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.  Cases provided by Fastcase, Inc.

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Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Title IX; Faculty & Staff; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence

FaÏza Harbri v. Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Walter Lewin (D. Mass. September 1, 2017)

Memorandum and Order granting in part and denying in part Defendant’s motion to dismiss. Plaintiff, a French national enrolled in online courses with Defendant, a professor teaching an online course through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), alleged a violation of Title IX against MIT, as well as state law claims of negligence, negligent infliction of emotion distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, breach of contract, and a violation of Massachusetts sexual harassment law against the professor and MIT.  Plaintiff sued following online receipt of sexually explicit messages and nude photographs from the professor, as well as witnessing him commit sexual acts through video calls on Skype. The court dismissed the Title IX claim, finding that Title IX’s jurisdiction did not include conduct committed in the United States that was then transmitted over the Internet to an individual physically living abroad. The court also dismissed the breach of contract claim, finding that no valid contract existed. However, the court found that the case could proceed under the state law claims of sexual harassment, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
9/6/2017
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Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Faculty & Staff

Irrera v. Humpherys (2d Cir. June 15, 2017)

Opinion and Order affirming-in-part and vacating-in-part the district court’s order. A graduate piano student at the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester alleged that the Chair of the Piano Department made unwanted sexual advances toward him and threatened to “make his life a living hell” if he reported the misconduct. He filed a retaliation claim against the Chair and the University, claiming that the Chair gave negative references to potential employers and prevented him from finding employment after graduation, all because Plaintiff rejected the Chair’s advances. Concluding that his claim was grounded in speculation, the district court dismissed Plaintiff’s suit. The Second Circuit reversed, finding that, although it was “not impossible that all 28 schools to which he applied for open teaching positions deemed his credentials insufficient to warrant an interview, it is plausible that these schools received negative references from the chairman.” Moreover, because colleges and employers rarely disclose the content of the references they receive, the absence of direct evidence regarding the alleged negative references was reasonable at this stage in the litigation. 

7/13/2017
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Title IX; Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Faculty & Staff; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence

Montoya v. New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology Board of Regents (D.N.M. Mar. 21, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting the Board of Regents’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ federal claims. Plaintiffs, a husband and wife employed by the New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology (NMIMT), filed suit against NMIMT, asserting that the Institute violated Title IX by inadequately responding to Plaintiff wife’s complaint that she was sexually assaulted by another employee at work and that this inadequate response created a hostile work environment. The Court found that NMIMT’s response was not clearly unreasonable as a matter of law, given that the Institute launched an investigation into the matter, placed the alleged attacker on leave, and acted to avoid future contact between Plaintiff wife and the alleged attacker. Plaintiff wife’s complaint also failed to satisfy the hostile environment element of her Title IX claim because the single instance of sexual misconduct described in the Complaint did not constitute “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” conduct as a matter of law. The Court remanded Plaintiffs’ state law claims after declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over them.

3/24/2017
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Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Retaliation; Employee Benefits & ERISA; Faculty & Staff

Byrd v. Board of Supervisors for the Louisiana System (W.D. La. Mar. 10, 2017)

Ruling granting in part and denying in part the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. A former employee of Louisiana Tech University claimed that her former supervisor and step-father sexually harassed her while she was employed at Louisiana Tech and that she was terminated in retaliation for reporting the alleged misconduct. She brought suit against the University’s Board of Supervisors, seeking damages for her loss of health and dental insurance, employer contributions to the state employees' retirement system, and other fringe benefits. The Board moved to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiff had not provided evidence or calculations to support her claims for damages. The Court granted the Motion as applied to the miscellaneous fringe benefits but otherwise denied the Motion, finding that Plaintiff raised sufficient allegations and evidence to indicate that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding any reasonable claim for retirement benefits and the damages she allegedly suffered in paying health insurance premiums.

3/13/2017
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