home

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.

Selected Topics: Faculty & Staff Tenure
Dates
New Search
Tenure; Retaliation; Faculty & Staff

Hatcher v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University (S.D. Ill. Oct. 30, 2017)

Memorandum and Order denying Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, an associate professor at Southern Illinois University (SIU), alleged under Title VII that SIU retaliated against her by denying her tenure application, after she filed an Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge.  Because only eight-weeks separated Plaintiff’s EEOC charge and Defendant’s tenure decision, and because there existed evidence of inconsistency in the Chancellor’s decision to override the tenure recommendation of the University’s Judicial Review Board (compared to past practice) and possible policy violations in reviewing Plaintiff’s tenure application, the court found that material issues of fact regarding pretext should proceed to a jury. 

11/2/2017
read
Tenure; Faculty & Staff; Age Discrimination; Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Howell v. Millersville University of Pennsylvania, et al. (E.D. Pa. October 20, 2017)

Opinion granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a tenured choral professor at Millersville University (MU), alleged that MU discriminated against him based on his age, created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against him for exercising free speech when he was denied a promotion, demoted, and subjected to two internal investigations. Although there were two stray, but later corrected comments about an individual Defendant’s desire to hire a “young and charismatic” Choral Director, the court dismissed Plaintiff’s age discrimination claim because Plaintiff failed to produce any evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could conclude that unlawful pretext motivated the employment decision, and not Plaintiff’s inadequate qualifications,  insufficient job performance in conducting the choir, inadequate supervision of students (which directly resulted in loss of host schools for student teachers), and other performance concerns.  Addressing Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, the court found that Plaintiff failed to show that he suffered intentional discrimination and that such discrimination was severe and pervasive. With respect to Plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim, the court found that Plaintiff’s speech—consisting of a union grievance, a Tumblr post criticizing his department, and a Facebook post defending his teaching methods—were not protected by the First Amendment and even if they were, Defendants could prove that they would have taken the same actions in the absence of Plaintiff’s speech. Notably, as to Plaintiff’s argument that the speech was protected by academic freedom, the Court emphasized that “[t]he institution, not the teacher, has control over the ‘four essential freedoms’ that comprise academic freedom.”

10/30/2017
read
Tenure; First Amendment & Free Speech; Constitutional Issues; Faculty & Staff

Banik v. Tamez, et al. (S.D. Tex. September 21, 2017)

Opinion and Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a tenured chemistry professor at the University of Texas Pan-American (UTPA), alleged that Defendants retaliated against him following three statements: first, statements made in the a conversation with a student regarding her personal situation; second, Plaintiff’s reference to a local gentlemen’s club ad; and third, Plaintiff’s criminal allegations  against another professor. The court dismissed all claims either because Plaintiff failed to show he spoke as a citizen on a matter of public concern or because Plaintiff could not show that his speech was a substantial or motivating factor behind Defendant’s decision to terminate his employment. 

9/25/2017
read
Faculty & Staff; Tenure; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Race and National Origin Discrimination

Yang Zhao v. Keuka College, et al. (W.D. N.Y. September 7, 2007)

Decision and Order granting in part and denying in part Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a U.S. citizen of Chinese heritage, alleged disparate treatment and hostile work environment under Title VII, as well as various claims under New York discrimination laws, after she was denied tenure by Defendants. The court found that Plaintiff’s Title VII claims were time barred since she neglected to file a charge with the EEOC within the 300-day time period. The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim because the “single discrete incident of discrimination,” that is, the tenure denial, was neither severe nor pervasive. Last, the court found it had subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s state law claims. 

9/13/2017
read
Retaliation; Tenure; Faculty & Staff; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Otis Grant v. The Trustees of Indiana University, et al. (7th Cir. August 31, 2017)

Order affirming the district court’s grant of Defendant’s summary judgment on all claims. Plaintiff, an African American tenured professor at the University of Indiana South Bend (USB), filed suit against Defendants USB, the Trustees, and several University employees alleging racial discrimination, retaliation, a violation of procedural due process, defamation, and breach of contract following his termination for “serious misconduct” related to misrepresentations on his curriculum vitae (CV). Plaintiff argued under the “cat’s paw theory of liability” that the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs lacked decision-making authority, but used a formal decision maker, here, the Chancellor of USB, to enact a discriminatory employment action. The court found that Plaintiff failed to show Defendants harbored discriminatory intent in investigating the CV misrepresentations and that Plaintiff could not argue pretext because he failed to show that the CV misrepresentations were false. The court further found that Plaintiff’s pre-termination process met the Constitutional requirements of procedural due process. The court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on all claims because Plaintiff could not prove that the alleged defamatory statements published in the school’s newspaper regarding his CV misrepresentations were false, alongside the fact that Plaintiff could not show a valid tenure contract existed based on the University’s handbook. 

9/6/2017
read
Employee Discipline; Tenure; Faculty & Staff

Michael Miller v. Los Angeles Community College District, et al. (Cal. Ct. App. August 30, 2017)

Unpublished judgment affirming the trial court’s denial of Plaintiff’s Petition for Writ of Mandate. Plaintiff, a tenured physical education instructor at Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), alleged he was wrongfully dismissed for dishonesty in connection to an investigation of possible financial aid fraud and seeks backpay, as well as reinstatement of his employment. Central to Plaintiff’s claim were two allegations (1) that LACCD failed to evaluate the tenured college instructor “at least once in every three academic years” as statutorily required and (2) that the President of LACCD failed to make a final recommendation of dismissal to the district governing board, as required by statute. The court found that any failure by LACCD to substantially comply with its statutory requirements was harmless error.  Moreover, finding that substantial evidence supported appellant’s termination, since appellant destroyed documents and erased his hard drive in the course of the fraud investigation, the court concluded that Plaintiff was not entitled to backpay. 

9/1/2017
read
Sex Discrimination; Tenure; Faculty & Staff; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Vasudevan v. Administrators of Tulane Educational Fund (5th Cir. Aug. 22, 2017)

Per curiam opinion affirming the district court’s order to strike Plaintiff’s untimely-filed opposition and award summary judgment to the Defendant-Appellees.  Tulane University declined to award tenure to Plaintiff because of insufficient scholarship over a multi-year period.  Plaintiff alleged that the University’s decision to deny her tenure was motivated by impermissible race, gender, and national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII, and that she was retaliated against for protected activities. Noting that a court cannot award summary judgment based solely on an unopposed motion, the Court concluded that sufficient, well-supported evidence justified an award of judgment to the Defendant, since Plaintiff neglected to establish the prima facie elements of a discrimination or retaliation claim, or rebut Defendant’s nondiscriminatory reason for the tenure decision.

8/25/2017
read
Tenure; Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Faculty & Staff; Sex Discrimination; Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Whitson v. State of Tennessee d/b/a the University of Tennessee (E.D. Tenn. July 31, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion granting in part and denying in part the State of Tennessee’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff was a female non-tenure track researcher with the University of Tennessee (UTC) who had arranged to use a lab run by an Assistant Professor. The Assistant Professor allegedly engaged in a series of uncomfortable interactions with Plaintiff, culminating in an attempt to physically force himself on her. After Plaintiff was denied tenure—allegedly in response to the researcher’s complaints of sexual harassment—Plaintiff sued the State, claiming hostile work environment under Title VII, hostile educational environment under Title IX, and Title VII and Title IX gender discrimination and retaliation. The court dismissed the hostile work and educational environment claims as time-barred, given that the alleged incidents of sexual harassment occurred in 2012 and 2013 and were not sufficiently intertwined with the denial of tenure for the purposes of either claim. However, it allowed her gender discrimination and retaliation claims to proceed after finding that Plaintiff’s appeal of her tenure denial was sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the denial constituted an ultimate employment decision.

8/1/2017
read
123