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

Maliandi v. Montclair State University (D.N.J. July 17, 2017)

Opinion affirming the magistrate judge’s denial of leave to amend the Complaint, granting MSU’s Motion to Dismiss, and denying Montclair State University’s (MSU) cross-appeal as moot. Plaintiff filed suit against MSU alleging that she was wrongfully terminated from her position in violation of the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and state antidiscrimination law. MSU moved to dismiss the Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on sovereign immunity grounds. The court dismissed MSU’s Motion, concluding that MSU is not the state's alter ego and is subject to suit. On appeal, the Third Circuit reversed and remanded, finding that MSU is in fact an arm of the state and therefore was entitled to sovereign immunity. On remand, Plaintiff moved for leave to amend her Complaint to add two University employees as defendants to the FMLA claim. The magistrate judge denied this Motion because the amendment did not relate back to the original Complaint, over which the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Third Circuit’s decision. The district court affirmed and added that because MSU is immune from suit under the FMLA and the state antidiscrimination law, it was required to dismiss the Complaint in its entirety.  

7/18/2017
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Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Faculty & Staff; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Disability Discrimination; Race and National Origin Discrimination

Vincent v. College of the Mainland (5th Cir. July 7, 2017)

Per curiam Opinion affirming the district court’s grant of the College of the Mainland’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff-Appellant sued the College after she was terminated from her position as a Computer Lab Assistant. She had taken leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 2008 and 2009, but continuing issues with tardiness and unexcused absences, along with her failure to comply with her supervisor’s directives or remedy her behavior, ultimately led to her termination. Plaintiff-Appellant alleged that she had been terminated due to her race, sex, and disability under Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and retaliated against under both statutes as well as the FMLA. Plaintiff-Appellant appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment, claiming that it had erred in 1) adopting an improperly-narrow, “nearly identical” standard to dismiss her alleged comparator; and 2) insisting that plaintiffs can only bring discrimination claims for actions that constitute ultimate employment decisions, not merely “materially adverse” actions. The Fifth Circuit disagreed, holding instead that it was bound by Fifth Circuit precedent on both arguments. It further concluded that the magistrate judge properly dismissed Plaintiff-Appellant’s Title VII, ADA, and FMLA retaliation claims. 

7/10/2017
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Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Disability Discrimination; Faculty & Staff; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Trahanas v. Northwestern University (N.D. Ill. July 6, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting in part and denying in part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. A former research technician at Northwestern who suffered from anxiety, depression, and ADHD claimed that her supervisor had denied her requested accommodation of reduced work hours. The supervisor then allegedly taunted Plaintiff for her disability and request for accommodations, disclosed Plaintiff’s disability to her coworkers, and failed to discipline those coworkers for mocking Plaintiff. Plaintiff eventually took leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for stress related to the alleged harassment. After she was later terminated, Plaintiff filed suit against Northwestern University and her former supervisor for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII, and the FMLA, along with various state law tort theories. The court dismissed all but Plaintiff’s Title VII hostile work environment/discrimination, ADA retaliation, FMLA retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims.

7/10/2017
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Retaliation; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Faculty & Staff

Jennings v. University of North Carolina (N.C. App. July 5, 2017)

Unpublished Opinion affirming the trial court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s Complaint. Elizabeth City State University, a constituent of the University of North Carolina, terminated Plaintiff for abusing her privileges as a network administrator during a disciplinary conference that took place while Plaintiff was on leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave. Plaintiff filed suit claiming her supervisor—whom Plaintiff had previously reported for multiple breaches of a faculty computer—harassed and later terminated her in retaliation for exposing his misbehavior and in violation of the FMLA. The lower court dismissed the case, concluding that Plaintiff failed to allege that she had exhausted administrative remedies or that administrative remedies would have been futile. The appeals court affirmed.

7/7/2017
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Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Retaliation; Retaliation; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Padilla v. Yeshiva University (2d Cir. May 31, 2017)

Summary Order vacating and remanding the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ claims. Two former employees of Yeshiva University brought a retaliation claim against the University and their union under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and a disability discrimination claim based on alleged violations of state law. The district court dismissed their claims upon finding that Plaintiffs provided insufficient evidence to link their FMLA leave to their termination. The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s ruling, holding that at the pleading stage, the inconsistencies in the timing and sequence of events and the purported hostility on the part of Yeshiva were sufficient to support a plausible inference of retaliation. Plaintiffs’ disability discrimination claim was also reinstated and remanded. 

6/2/2017
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Retaliation; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Faculty & Staff; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Liu v. Univ. of Miami Sch. of Medicine (11th Cir. May 19, 2017)

Per curiam Opinion affirming the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the University of Miami School of Medicine (UM). Appellant, an Asian female and Chinese native, was demoted from a tenure-track position and later terminated from her research-track position at the University due to poor performance. She filed suit against UM alleging race, national origin, and sex discrimination claims under Title VII and Section 1981, along with retaliation claims under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court correctly concluded that Appellant had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies under Title VII because she filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge well beyond the 365-day time limit. Additionally, although there is no similar exhaustion requirement for Section 1981, the court found that the University provided legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Appellant, and that Appellant either admitted to her poor performance or failed to provide evidence of a potential discriminatory motive. Further, Appellant failed to make a prima facie showing of FMLA retaliation because she requested leave after UM issued her a written notice of termination.  

5/22/2017
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Retaliation; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Faculty & Staff; Retaliation; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Cannon v. Univ. of Tenn. (E.D. Tenn. May 17, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s (UTK) Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, who worked for Service Aide UTK, was diagnosed with Moersch-Wltman Syndrome, a rare disease characterized by progressive muscle stiffness and spasms. He took medical leave for his condition and for a subsequent injury. However, after he was repeatedly reprimanded and ultimately terminated for attendance issues, he filed suit against the University claiming disability discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, as well as Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) interference and retaliation. The court concluded that UTK had offered sufficient evidence to support its conclusion that—regardless of whether Plaintiff could not complete his job with accommodations or simply refused to do his job—he did not perform his duties, and therefore that the University’s termination decision was unrelated to Plaintiff’s use of FMLA leave, his medical condition, or his request for accommodation. 

5/19/2017
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Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Retaliation; Sex Discrimination; Retaliation; Religious Discrimination; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Equal Protection; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Constitutional Issues

Shutlz v. Dixie State University (E.D. Mo. May 11, 2017)

Memorandum Decision and Order granting in part and denying in party Defendants’ Partial Motion to Dismiss. Dixie State University’s first female vice president alleged she was subjected to discriminatory conduct on the basis of her gender and religion by two University presidents, both of whom are male and Mormon. Specifically, she claimed that she was paid less than her male vice president colleagues, was told by the first president that she was a professional liability due to the fact that she is a female and a non-Mormon, was taken out of the rotation for being in charge during the President’s absence, was assigned undesirable projects, was suspended after she was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening condition, and was ultimately terminated and replaced with a Mormon male vice president. The court found that Plaintiff’s allegations were sufficient to constitute viable Title VII claims based on alleged disparate treatment but not based on an allegedly hostile work environment because her claims were based on speculation. It dismissed Plaintiff’s breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and Section 1983 Equal Protection claims against all Defendants; her Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Equal Pay Act claims against Dixie State; and her retaliation claim against the first Defendant president. 

5/15/2017
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