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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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Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Bonadona v. Louisiana College, et al. (W.D. of La. July 13, 2018)

Report and Recommendation granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, an individual of Jewish heritage but of Christian faith, alleged that Louisiana College (LC) did not hire him for an assistant coach position purportedly because of his “Jewish blood” in violation of Title VII and section 1981. The court found that Plaintiff did not have a cognizable claim against Defendant Brewer, the president of LC, because he is not an “employer” within the meaning of Title VII. However, the court allowed Plaintiff’s Title VII claim against LC to proceed after finding that discrimination based on Jewish heritage is discrimination based on race, and thus actionable under Title VII.

7/20/2018
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Sex Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Disability Discrimination

Hostettler v. College of Wooster (6th Cir. July 17, 2018)

Opinion reversing the Order of the district court and remanding for further proceedings. Plaintiff, an HR Generalist at Wooster College (WC), alleged that WC discriminated against her based on her pregnancy in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and state law by terminating her when she requested to extend her part-time work schedule due to postpartum depression and separation anxiety. WC administrators explained that they terminated Plaintiff because full-time presence at work was an essential function of her position. The court determined that competing evidence should have precluded the district court from granting summary judgment on Plaintiff’s ADA claim. Namely, genuine disputes of material fact remained as to whether working full-time was an essential function of Plaintiff’s position, whether Plaintiff completed all of her work while on a part-time schedule, and whether WC was willing to engage in an interactive process after Plaintiff requested an accommodation. Of particular note, the court stated, “[F]ull-time presence at work is not an essential function of a job solely because an employer says that it is . . . . An employer cannot deny a modified work schedule as unreasonable unless the employer can show why the employee is needed on a full-time schedule.”  Since the essential function of Plaintiff’s position presented a genuine dispute of material fact, the court found that WC could no longer allege a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for Plaintiff’s termination and allowed her Title VII claim to proceed. Last, the court directed the district court to address on remand whether equitable estoppel entitled Plaintiff to FMLA benefits despite her being on leave for longer than the FMLA allowed, given that WC treated all of her leave as FMLA eligible and Plaintiff “relied to her detriment on Wooster’s misrepresentation that she was FMLA eligible.”

7/19/2018
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Sex Discrimination; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Age Discrimination

Johnson v. East Carolina University (N.C. App. July 17, 2018)

Unpublished Opinion affirming the Final Decision of the Administrative Law Judge in favor of Defendant East Carolina University. Plaintiff, a fifty-five-year-old African-American woman who works in the department of Information Technology and Computer Services (ITCS) at East Carolina University (ECU), challenged the Office of Administrative Hearing’s finding that her termination was lawful and she did not qualify for priority consideration under state law. Reviewing the factual findings of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the court found that Plaintiff failed to show that she had the “skills, knowledge, and abilities [bearing] a reasonable functional relationship to the abilities and skills required” for the position. Namely, Plaintiff failed to correctly answer in her interview certain technical questions about the PL/SQL programming language required for the position, and projects listed on Plaintiff’s application failed to show PL/SQL experience. Due to Plaintiff’s limited qualifications as compared to the individual ECU hired, the court affirmed the ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff was not entitled to priority consideration under state law.

7/19/2018
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Retaliation; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Smith v. Univ. of Scranton, et al. (M.D. Pa. July 10, 2018)

Memorandum granting Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a receptionist for the University of Scranton, alleged that the University retaliated against her for requesting an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act when terminating her for routine printing and copying mistakes, mismanagement of office supplies, lack of attention to detail, and failure to take initiative. The court found no causal link between Plaintiff’s protected activity and her dismissal, reasoning that the thirty-three-month gap between the two activities did not show an unusually suggestive motive of retaliation, nor did Plaintiff’s circumstantial evidence show causation or a pattern of antagonism.

7/13/2018
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Retaliation; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; First Amendment & Free Speech; Constitutional Issues

Gamino v. Yosemite Community College District (E.D. Cal. July 10, 2018)

Findings and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge to grant-in-part and deny-in-part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a student at Modesto Junior College in the Yosemite Community College District (YCCD) 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. Plaintiff’s claims arise from his interactions with YCCD instructors and administrators who purportedly required him to take tests without accommodations, made certain remarks about his disability in class, and inadequately responded to his discrimination complaints. Liberally construing Plaintiff’s amended complaint, the court found that Plaintiff presented a cognizable discrimination claim based on a professor’s refusal to allow him to take a test in the testing center. Moreover, the court allowed Plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim to proceed against Defendant Peterson—who embarrassed Plaintiff in his class after Plaintiff filed a complaint against him—but the court dismissed claims against other YCCD administrators. Plaintiff’s claim that YCCD policy and customs exhibited deliberate indifference towards disabled individuals failed because Plaintiff could not show that YCCD failed to exercise due care when hiring instructors, had a policy of discouraging students from filing complaints, or inadequately trained or supervised its instructors and administrators.

7/13/2018
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Sex Discrimination; Retaliation; Religious Discrimination; Age Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Russell v. New York University, et al. (2nd Cir. June 25, 2018)

Order and opinion affirming summary judgment for the Defendants. Plaintiff, who was the target of anonymous harassment over the internet, alleged that Defendants maintained a hostile work environment by failing to remedy workplace harassment based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, and age. Plaintiff also alleged that Defendants retaliated against her for reporting discrimination by issuing a final written warning for job-related misconduct and terminating her employment.   Regarding Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, the issue on appeal was whether the Defendants’ efforts to remedy the harassment were objectively reasonable.  Pointing to NYU’s prompt internal investigation, efforts to investigate the IP addresses associated with the anonymous harassment, and collaboration with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the Second Circuit agreed with the district court that no reasonable jury could find for Plaintiff on her hostile work environment claims.  In so holding, the court acknowledged NYU’s limited capacity as a private institution to investigate online misconduct, especially since it lacked subpoena power, and further noted that "[a]n employer need not prove success in preventing harassing behavior in order to demonstrate that it exercised reasonable care in preventing and correcting [the] harassing conduct." The court also affirmed judgment for the NYU Defendants on Plaintiff’s retaliation claim, finding that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that NYU’s decision to terminate her for insubordination and repeated contact with witnesses (which was later deemed by the district court to violate a protective order), was motivated by a retaliatory motive.

7/3/2018
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Retaliation; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

McPartlan-Hurson v. Westchester College (S.D.N.Y. June 21, 2018)

Order and Opinion granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment.  Plaintiff, a white, disabled, adjunct professor in the English Department, alleged that Westchester College discriminated against her based on race and disability, and ultimately retaliated against her, by denying her a diversity fellowship for the Fall 2009 semester and terminating her employment in December of 2009, while her application for the 2010 fellowship was pending.   Preliminarily, the court found Plaintiff’s claims related to the denial of the 2009 diversity fellowship to be untimely, since she filed her EEOC charge more than 300 days after she received notice that she had not been selected for the Fellowship.  As to Plaintiff’s claims race and disability discrimination, the court concluded that Plaintiff’s allegations were unsupported by facts and “too attenuated to withstand muster.”  The court allowed Plaintiff’s retaliation claim to proceed, based in part on triable issues about Plaintiff’s performance, and also on an email from the English Department’s Adjunct Coordinator (the hiring authority) stating, "I don't want to sabotage her application [for the 2010 Fellowship], but I'm getting a little tired of this after hearing her story over and over." The court believed this statement could reasonably be construed as evidence that Plaintiff was fired for reporting discrimination.

7/2/2018
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Practice of Higher Education Law; Students; Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Shaika v. Texas A&M College of Medicine (5th Cir. June 20, 2018)

Per Curiam Opinion affirming the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff’s Section 1983 and ADA claims, reversing the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s claim under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and remanding for further proceedings.  Plaintiff, a former medical student at Texas A&M University College of Medicine (College), suffered undiagnosed health problems during his third year which caused him to miss the deadline to pass a medical licensing exam.  As a result, the College gave Plaintiff the option of being dismissed from the program or withdrawing. Plaintiff withdrew and after receiving an accurate diagnosis and undergoing successful treatment was subsequently denied readmission twice, after being told by the College’s Dean of Admissions that “he was not an acceptable applicant and that he was a liability for psychiatric reasons.” Thereafter, Plaintiff sued the College as well as the College’s President, in his individual capacity, claiming a Section 1983 rights violation under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and disability discrimination under the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  The district court granted Defendant’s 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss on the basis of a sovereign immunity claim. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the Section 1983 claim because Plaintiff did not contest the district court’s sovereign immunity determination.  The appellate court also affirmed the dismissal of the ADA claim because Plaintiff “failed to brief any meaningful argument that Congress's purported abrogation [of sovereign immunity in Title II of the ADA] is ‘nevertheless valid’ as an exercise of Congress's authority under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment” as required by the three-part inquiry set forth by the Supreme Court in United States v. Georgia, 546 U.S. 151 (2006).  However, the appellate court reversed the dismissal of the Section 504 claim, holding that there was no dispute that the College waived immunity from suit under Section 504 by accepting federal funding and that Plaintiff plausibly alleged that he was subjected to discrimination in the form of the constructive dismissal from the program and denials of readmission "solely by reason of…his disability.”

7/2/2018
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