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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Title IX; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; First Amendment & Free Speech; Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration; Practice of Higher Education Law; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Hyman v. Cornell Univ. (2nd Cir., May 9, 2018)

Summary Order affirming the judgment of the district court.  Hyman (Plaintiff) sued Cornell University and seventeen other University employees (Defendants) alleging First Amendment and Title IX violations when her report of sexual harassment against one of the Defendants was dismissed and when she was sanctioned by the school for harassing him.  Plaintiff’s suit was dismissed by the district court as barred by res judicata because her claims relied on the same operative facts as a previous suit she had filed against the University and one of the named Defendants.  Plaintiff appealed both the dismissal and denial of reconsideration by the district court.  Plaintiff attempted to overcome res judicata by pointing to additional allegations in the suit that post-date her first suit and by naming sixteen additional defendants in the suit that were not named in the first.  The court found that the addition of new facts were from substantially the same transaction or occurrence and even though they post-date the first claim, do not amount to a new claim.  In addition, citing the principle of privity, the court found that the naming of sixteen additional defendants did not overcome claim preclusion because all the named defendants are “[University] professors and administrators whose ‘interests were adequately represented’ by [the University] in the first suit.”  The court found no error in the district court’s denial of reconsideration.

First Amendment & Free Speech; Title IX; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Sex Discrimination; Due Process; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Constitutional Issues

Doe v. Distefano (D. Colo. May 7, 2018)

Order granting in part and denying in part Defendant’s motion to dismiss.  Plaintiff, a male student at the University of Colorado, Boulder (University), sued after he was expelled for sexually assaulting two female students, claiming that the University’s investigation and its outcome violated Title IX because both were “motivated by pervasive anti-male bias amounting to sex discrimination.” Plaintiff also claimed a procedural due process violation and requested the Court order Defendant to purge an adverse notation from his transcript.  The court granted Defendants’ motion on the portion of Plaintiff’s claim based on the assertion that “[a] person has a protected liberty interest in his good name, reputation, honor and integrity” because Plaintiff failed to contest Defendant’s counterarguments in his reply and because “[h]arm to reputation alone is not the sort of harm that supports a procedural due process claim…[under] the so-called ‘stigma plus’ test.” However, the court denied the motion as to the portion of Plaintiff’s claim based on a property interest because Defendant failed to engage the question raised by Plaintiff “whether this context—wherein a plaintiff is accused of conduct which may form the basis for criminal prosecution—changes the Mathews v. Eldridge [due process] calculus in a manner requiring more than minimal notice and an opportunity to respond” and because “Plaintiff’s accusations, taken together, create a plausible inference of bias against those accused of sexual misconduct.” 

Equal Protection; Disability Discrimination; Age Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; First Amendment & Free Speech; Constitutional Issues

Committe v. Yen, et al. (N.D. N.Y. May 7, 2018)

Memorandum Decision and Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Pro se Plaintiff, a sixty-six year old man with physical disabilities, alleged under the equal protection clause pursuant to a section 1983 claim that State University of New York (SUNY) discriminated against him based on age and disability when it failed to hire him for a tenure-track position and visiting assistant professor position. Plaintiff further alleged that SUNY violated his “right to academic freedom under the due process clause” by requiring him to participate in a teaching presentation as part of his interview. The court dismissed Plaintiff’s disability discrimination claim because disability is not a protected class under the equal protection clause. The court further dismissed Plaintiff’s age discrimination claim because he failed to allege facts that supported an inference of age discrimination and failed to rebut Defendants’ legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for hiring other younger applicants—namely, that Plaintiff received negative evaluations on his teaching presentation. Plaintiff’s academic freedom claim was dismissed because it was unclear to the court how SUNY’s interview requirement violated any right to academic freedom under First Amendment jurisprudence.

Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Retaliation; Race and National Origin Discrimination; First Amendment & Free Speech; Constitutional Issues; Faculty & Staff

Patra and Vaz v. Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, et al. (M.D. Pa. May 8, 2018)

Order granting Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on all counts. After their teaching contracts at Bloomsburg University were not renewed, Plaintiffs sued, citing eleven allegations, including retaliation and race, national origin, and religious discrimination. The court concluded that Plaintiffs’ brief “utterly fail[ed] to explain” why the Court should not grant summary judgment to the Defendants on all claims. As examples, the court highlighted Plaintiffs’ failure to: (i) explain how their termination was “under circumstances that raise an inference of discriminatory action” under Title VII, (ii) explain what “adverse employment actions” were taken by Defendants; and (iii) provide evidence that they engaged in constitutionally-protected speech to support their First Amendment retaliation claims.

First Amendment & Free Speech; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Groenewold v. Kelley, et al. (8th Cir. April 24, 2018)

Judgment affirming dismissal. Plaintiff, the former Director of the Energy and Environmental Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota (UND), alleged that UND retaliated against him for exercising his free speech rights and deprived him of due process when UND terminated him for submitting false information about the EERC, creating an inappropriate and abusive work environment, being insubordinate to the President of the University, and other related reasons. Applying Garcetti, the court found that Plaintiff’s expressions about EERC’s costs, financial matters, and business opportunities did not amount to protected speech; rather, these expressions were made pursuant to Plaintiff’s duties as a public employee, and not as a private citizen on matters of public concern. The court further found that the President’s letter of intent, detailing 7 reasons for termination and 25 examples of misconduct, provided sufficient notice to Plaintiff of his impending termination, and his pre-termination hearing satisfied the due process requirement that he have an “opportunity to be heard.” Plaintiff’s withdrawal from his post-termination appeal precluded him from bringing a post-deprivation procedural due process claim, since he neglected to exhaust administrative remedies. Plaintiff’s substantive due process claim failed because his termination was neither “conscience shocking,” nor violated a deeply rooted fundamental right. Without a constitutional violation to support Plaintiff’s section 1983 claim, the court affirmed the dismissal of claims against UND’s President in his individual capacity and Individual defendants in their official capacities.

First Amendment & Free Speech; Equal Protection; Political Activity on Campus; Constitutional Issues; Campus Police, Safety & Crisis Management

Kushner v. Buhta, et al. (D. Minn. April 18, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a lawyer and alumnus of the University of Minnesota Law School (UMLS), brought section 1983 claims against Defendants for First Amendment interference and retaliation, excessive force, disparate treatment under the Equal Protection Clause, procedural and substantive due process violations, unlawful arrest, and conspiracy following his removal from an on-campus lecture and subsequent arrest and partial ban from the campus. In awarding judgment to the Defendants, the court concluded that 1) Plaintiff did not have a First Amendment right to record interactions with the police at a lecture in a UMLS classroom, which was a limited public forum, 2) the university police officers had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for trespassing, and 3) Plaintiff, as an alumni visitor, did not have a constitutionally-protected interest in accessing the UMLS campus. Specific to Plaintiff’s First Amendment claim, the court found that UMLS’s “Rules of Decorum” for campus events—which prohibited unauthorized video-recording, demonstrations, and disruptive activity—were reasonable and viewpoint-neutral restrictions. The court further found that university police officers did not use unreasonable force in arresting the Plaintiff, nor did the evidence Plaintiff proffered suggest that their actions were motivated by intentional discrimination. Noting that the doctrine of official immunity applied to Plaintiff’s remaining state law claims, the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction.
First Amendment & Free Speech

AAU Presidents and Chancellors Reaffirm Commitment to Free Speech on Campus (April 18, 2018)

Statement by the Association of American Universities (AAU) reaffirming its commitment to free speech on campus. The statement highlights the importance of free speech to the educational mission of AAU’s universities and commits to “protecting the expression of ideas,” while also taking “all steps necessary to promote an inclusive and non-discriminatory learning environment.” In recommitting itself to these values, AAUC provides that it strives “to be a model for society of how a free and democratic people should work through disagreements and arrive at a deeper understanding of important issues and of each other.” 

Retaliation; Disability Discrimination; First Amendment & Free Speech; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Constitutional Issues

Gamino v. Yosemite Community College District, et al. (E.D. Cal. April 16, 2018)

Order and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge to grant-in-part and deny-in-part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a student at Yosemite Community College (YCC) who suffers from hypoplastic right heart syndrome, alleged that Defendants discriminated against him based on disability; retaliated against him for filing a discrimination complaint; and deprived him of his right to free speech and privacy, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act (RA), and the First Amendment pursuant to section 1983. Plaintiff’s claims arise from his interactions with two YCC instructors who purportedly required him to take tests without accommodations and who made certain remarks about his disability in class, as well as YCC administrators who responded to his complaints. The court found that Plaintiff failed to plausibly allege disability discrimination or retaliation under the ADA and RA because he failed to show that his medical condition “substantially limit[ed] one or more major life activity,” or that he was “excluded from participation in or otherwise discriminated against with regard to education.” Plaintiff’s ADA and RA personal liability claims against Defendants in their individual capacities were dismissed because the statutes did not allow such claims, while the Eleventh Amendment barred Plaintiff’s claims for monetary damages. Among Plaintiff’s section 1983 claims, the court found that only his First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Peterson could proceed.