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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Tenure; Due Process; Employment Separation, RIFs, ERIPs & Retrenchment; Faculty & Staff

Edionwe v. Bailey (5th Cir. June 19, 2017)

Opinion and Order affirming the district court’s grant of Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed legislation consolidating the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) and the University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) to create the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), and ordered the UTRGV Board of Regents to rehire as many faculty and staff from UTPA and UTB as practicable. Plaintiff, a tenured Professor at UTPA, was not rehired because he failed to submit a timely application prior to the deadline. He sued UTPA, UTRGV, the University of Texas System, and the Presidents of UTRGV and UTPA for alleged procedural and substantive due process violations. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit rejected Plaintiff’s contention that his property interest in continued employment at UTPA transferred to UTRGV. It further found that the procedure used to terminate Plaintiff’s tenure satisfied procedural due process requirements.

Tax; Employment Separation, RIFs, ERIPs & Retrenchment; Faculty & Staff

Unemployment Insurance Program Letter on the Interpretation of “Contract” and “Reasonable Assurance” (Dec. 22, 2016)

Letter issued by the U.S. Department of Labor on the interpretation of the terms “contract” and “reasonable assurance” in the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA). This letter outlines the criteria that state agencies should use when determining whether an individual has a contract or reasonable assurance to work at an educational institution in order to determine eligibility for unemployment compensation during periods when school is not in session. This matter is especially relevant to adjunct faculty members, who often receive contracts or offers to teach on a contingent basis.

Tenure; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Employment Separation, RIFs, ERIPs & Retrenchment

Fernandez v. Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education (9th Cir., Mar. 23, 2016)

Plaintiffs-appellants Rangesan Narayanan and George Fernandez, former tenured faculty members at the University of Nevada, Reno, filed suit against the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education and then-Provost Marc Johnson after they were terminated during a recent round of budget cuts at the University. The Court found that Plaintiffs failed to establish a prima facie case of national origin discrimination based on its conclusion that the individuals they identified as being similarly situated had materially different qualifications or held materially different positions at the University. Even assuming Plaintiffs established a prima facie case, the Court concluded that Defendants demonstrated that state-mandated budget cuts constituted legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for Plaintiffs' termination and that Plaintiffs failed to produce sufficient evidence to create a dispute of material fact as to whether the non-discriminatory reasons for the layoffs were pretextual.
Employment Separation, RIFs, ERIPs & Retrenchment; Due Process

Miller v. Mearns (6th Cir., Mar. 14, 2016)

Order and opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirming the district court's grant of summary judgment to Defendant Northern Kentucky University. After being terminated from his position as the general manager of WNKU, Plaintiff Charles Miller filed suit alleging that the University and its various administrators violated his right to due process by firing him without a pre-deprivation hearing. The Sixth Circuit was not persuaded by Miller's argument that the district court erred by converting the University's motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment without providing "unequivocal notice" to the parties, finding instead that the University's motion to dismiss, despite its label, was functionally equivalent to a summary judgment motion. The Court further held that even if it were to consider Miller's claim de novo, dismissal of his complaint was appropriate because under Kentucky law, the express terms of a university's non-binding employment policies do not secure a contractual right to continued employment, and therefore, Miller had no constitutional property interest at stake.
Employment Separation, RIFs, ERIPs & Retrenchment

McGlashan v. Univ. of Wash. (W.D. Wash., 2016)

Order by the U.S. District Court Western District of Washington at Seattle granting defendant's motion for partial summary judgment on January 14, 2016. Plaintiff – a former University of Washington employee – sued the University for breach of contract following her termination from employment. The University argued the plaintiff was precluded from bringing the claim because she failed to exhaust the administrative remedies as set forth by her Union's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The court concluded that the plaintiff's failure to appeal the Union's decision not to arbitrate her grievance – a necessary step in the CBA's administrative remedy process – was sufficient evidence to show that as a matter of law, the plaintiff's claims for breach of contract must fail for having not exhausted the administrative remedies available to her.
Employment Separation, RIFs, ERIPs & Retrenchment

Arizona State University Reaches Settlement Agreement with Professor

Settlement Agreement reached between Arizona State University ("ASU") and Professor Matthew Whitaker. The University demoted and then placed Whitaker on probation following a finding of plagiarism by a University-commissioned investigation. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, neither party admits to wrong-doing or liability. ASU will continue to pay Whitaker's salary of $153,500 and benefits in addition to $25,000 to cover Whitaker's attorney's fees.
Employment Separation, RIFs, ERIPs & Retrenchment

Morton v. Vanderbilt Univ. (6th Cir., 2016)

Opinion by U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on January 6, 2016, reversing district court's judgment. The Plaintiffs – a group former employees of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center – sued the University claiming the University violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) by failing to provide employees the required 60 days written notice prior to a mass lay off. The district court agreed with the plaintiffs holding that the University "terminated" a prior group of employees without adequate notice resulting in a "mass layoff" – violating the WARN Act. On Appeal, the Sixth Circuit determined the district court erred in ruling the University "terminated" the prior group of employees. The University's actions toward those workers did not fall within the WARN Act's definition of "terminate" because, at the time of notice, the employees continued to be paid and accrue benefits. Consequently, the University's actions did not constitute a "mass layoff" or trigger any WARN Act provisions.
Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Employment Separation, RIFs, ERIPs & Retrenchment

Feather v. Univ. of Cent. Okla. (W.D. Okla., 2016)

Order by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma granting defendant's motion to dismiss on January 13, 2016. Plaintiff – a former employee at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) – sued the University in state court alleging, among other claims, that UCO discriminated against him due to a physical impairment. The state court granted the University summary judgment on each claim. Following the state court's decision, the plaintiff filed suit in federal district court asking that the court remand the case, arguing the state court's ruling was incorrect and denied him due process. Citing the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the district court held that the plaintiff was barred from bringing his claim to a federal court to "undo the state court judgment" because appellate jurisdiction over such claims belongs to the U.S. Supreme Court.