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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Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Equal Protection; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Constitutional Issues

Warr-Hightower v. Illinois Central College, et al. (C.D. Ill. Nov. 14, 2017)

Order and Opinion granting in part and denying in part Defendants‘ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, an African American woman employed by Illinois Central College (ICC), alleged individual claims of race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII, the Illinois Civil Rights Act (ICRA), section 2000e, and section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act following her denial of two promotions in which she was qualified. Plaintiff also brought a class action claim on behalf of African American employees affected by ICC’s policies and practices of “creating a predominantly and disproportionately non-African American upper echelon workforce” and ICC’s use of a “sham investigation process” that purportedly resulted in retaliation when individuals sought outside process. The court dismissed Plaintiff’s class action claim because she failed to include the claim in her Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge and therefore, had not exhausted her administrative remedies. The court further found that even if Plaintiff had exhausted administrative requirements, Plaintiff could not support a class action claim because her pleadings did not allege a class so numerous that joinder would be impractical, nor did she show a typicality of facts, such that allegations and remedies would rest on common facts rather than individualized fact findings and liability determinations. However, the court found that Plaintiff sufficiently met the pleading requirements for her individual claims of race discrimination and retaliation. The court further found that Plaintiff’s section 1983 equal protection claim could proceed against individual defendants who directly participated in the alleged constitutional violation. 

Equal Protection; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Constitutional Issues

The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, et al. v. Maryland Higher Education, et al. (D. Md. Nov. 8, 2017)

Order appointing a Special Master to develop a Remedial Plan. Plaintiff is a coalition of prospective students, current students, and alumni of Maryland’s historically black institutions (HBIs) that successfully showed violations of Title VI and the Equal Protection Clause by the State of Maryland, specifically that “unnecessary program duplication within Maryland’s system of higher education continues to have segregative effects for which the State has no sound educational justification.” Presently before the court were remedial plans proposed by both parties. In reviewing the proposed remedies under the legal framework of United States v. Fordice, the court determined that neither party’s proposed remedies were “sufficiently practicable, educationally sound, and likely to achieve the greatest possible reduction in segregative effects to justify an order of their imposition.”  While concluding that unique, high-demand programs would reduce the segregative effects of unnecessary program duplication, the court rejected Plaintiffs’ proposal to transfer unique programs from TWIs to HBIs, finding that the proposal would negatively impact student recruitment and faculty retention at TWIs, threaten institutional accreditation, and harm institutions’ reputations. The court will appoint a Special Master to develop and monitor a remedial plan to include the creation of new, high-demand programs at HBIs and provide HBIs with funding for student recruitment, financial aid, marketing, and related initiatives.

Equal Protection; Constitutional Issues

Javed and Wasif v. City University of New York (September 29, 2017)

Memorandum and Order granting Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff Javed, a former employee of City University of New York (CUNY), along with his wife, Plaintiff Wasif, alleged that CUNY discriminated against Javed based on his national origin and religion in violation of his rights under procedural due process, the Equal Protection Clause, Title VII, and state law, after his work visa expired while institutional disciplinary proceedings for Neglect of Duty and Incompetence were pending against him. In addition to dismissing much of the Complaint due to abandoned claims and sovereign immunity, the court also found that Plaintiff Javed failed to show that he was deprived of any constitutional right, plead any facts supporting his conclusory allegation that he was denied “equal protection,” or offer credible evidence suggesting Defendant’s reason for terminating him was pretextual.  Rather, the court found that Plaintiff Javed’s failure to perform the basic functions of his job was sufficient to explain his discipline, and his ultimate termination was mandatory under U.S. immigration law due to his expired immigration status.

Sex Discrimination; Retaliation; Title IX; Equal Protection; Constitutional Issues

Feminist Majority Foundation v. University of Mary Washington, et al. (E.D. Va. September 19, 2017)

Opinion granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a student-run feminist organization, sued the University of Mary Washington (UMW) for discrimination and retaliation under Title IX and deprivation of constitutional rights under the Equal Protection Clause, following cyberbullying of its organizational members on Yik Yak—a social media application that allows users to post anonymous comments. Plaintiff requested, among other things, that UMW disable Yik Yak from its wireless network due to increasing harassment targeting specific members, while UMW contended that it could not disable Yik Yak due to First Amendment concerns. In dismissing Plaintiffs’ deliberate indifference claim, and citing Davis v. Montgomery County Bd. of Educ., the court found that UMW could not, as a matter of law, be subjected to liability for anonymous Yik Yak posts, since UMW neither “exercise[d] substantial control over . . . the harasser,” nor did UMW exercise control “over the context in which the known harassment occur[d].”  Moreover, Plaintiff neither identified a retaliatory action nor similarly situated students that were treated more favorably than Plaintiffs.

Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Equal Protection; Constitutional Issues; Due Process

Peace Esonwune v. Regents of the University of California (N.D. Cal. September 12, 2017)

Order dismissing complaint without leave to amend. Plaintiff is a disabled, female, African American of Nigerian heritage enrolled in the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) School of Pharmacy. She alleged claims under the First and Fourteenth Amendment, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act (RA), Title IX, and California constitutional law, arising from alleged discrimination based on race, disability, and sex.  Despite liberally construing Plaintiff’s pro se pleadings, the court found Plaintiff’s ADA and RA claims failed because she did not allege that the University’s accommodations were insufficient, Plaintiff’s due process claim failed for failure to allege insufficient process, and Plaintiff’s other constitutional claims against the Regents were barred under sovereign immunity. Turning to Plaintiff’s claims against Individual Defendants, the court found insufficient facts to support her claims of gender discrimination under Title IX and the equal protection clause, as well as Plaintiff’s right to petition the government to redress her grievances under the First and Fourteenth Amendment. The court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s remaining California claims.

Equal Protection; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Constitutional Issues; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Jeffrey Demoss v. Delaware State University, et al. (D. Del. September 7, 2017)

Memorandum granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss with leave to amend. Plaintiff, a white male and employee of Delaware State University (DSU)’s Dining and Auxiliary Services, alleged race discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment against Individual Defendants, race discrimination under Section 1981 against Individual Defendants, and race discrimination under Title VI against DSU, arising from Plaintiff’s termination, which coincided with the University’s retention of three younger, female African American employees. The court found that the Individual Defendants were protected by qualified immunity, and analyzing Plaintiff’s Equal Protection and Section 1981 claims together, the court found Plaintiff’s alleged facts—that “African American women were hired to do his job at a higher rate of pay... and various other cuts by DSU”—were insufficient to establish intentional discrimination. The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s Title VI claim because it did not allege facts beyond the assertion that DSU receives federal funding.  

Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Constitutional Issues; First Amendment & Free Speech; Equal Protection; Due Process

Lisa Sherff v. South Texas College, et al. (S.D. Tex. August 29, 2017)

Order granting in part and denying in part Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss and granting in part and denying in part Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a nursing student at South Texas College (STC), alleged that STC and various STC employees failed to accommodate her and retaliated against her in violation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act (RA); retaliated against her for protected speech; abridged her rights to substantive due process and equal protection; and committed various torts, after Plaintiff publicly criticized STC’s nursing program. Construing federal disability laws broadly, the court deemed Plaintiff’s week-long “panic and anxiety episode/breakdown” to be a protected disability and allowed Plaintiff’s claims to proceed regarding retroactive and prospective accommodations.  The court dismissed Plaintiff’s ADA and RA retaliation claims, because all alleged retaliatory activity pre-existed Plaintiff’s disability.  The court dismissed under sovereign immunity Plaintiff’s state law claims as well as Plaintiff’s constitutional claims  against STC and STC staff in their official capacity, but found Defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity in their individual capacity for Plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim because Plaintiff alleged facts supporting a plausible claim that her speech was on a matter of public concern, and there was some question as to whether Defendants acted with “a reckless disregard for Plaintiff’s rights and [with] intentional violations of federal law.” 

Title IX; Due Process; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Equal Protection; Constitutional Issues

Gulyas v. Appalachian State University (W.D.N.C. Aug. 28, 2017)

Order granting in part and denying in part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a male undergraduate student at Appalachian State University (ASU), was accused by his former girlfriend, a female undergraduate student at ASU of harassment, unauthorized entry into her dorm room, making threats, and causing her bodily harm. An ASU conduct board found Plaintiff responsible for “unlawful entry” and “acts of harm” in violation of its student conduct code. Plaintiff sued the University and several University officials alleging denial of due process and equal protection, along with gender discrimination in violation of Title IX. Although Plaintiff received adequate notice of the charges against him, the court found that Plaintiff had stated a viable due process claim based on allegations that University officials “impugned the fairness of the disciplinary proceeding” by “intentionally structur[ing] it in a manner to deter the pursuit of the truth on the unlawful entry charge.” However, Plaintiff’s equal protection and Title IX claims failed due to the lack of alleged facts demonstrating that he was similarly situated to the proposed comparator—the female accuser--and due to the conclusory allegation that Defendants treated him differently on the basis of his sex.