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; 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.

Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Emanuelson v. University of North Carolina at Greensboro, et al. (M.D. N.C. April 12, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Recommendation by United States Magistrate Judge to grant-in-part and deny-in-part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a graduate nursing student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), alleged that UNCG 1) discriminated against him based on his disability by denying his request for an accommodation at a clinical site and 2) deprived him of due process by dismissing him from the nursing program for “unsafe practice” without certain procedural safeguards. As an initial matter, the court found that Plaintiff’s section 1983 due process claim could proceed only where he sought reinstatement into the nursing program, since the prospective relief was based on an ongoing violation of federal law within the Ex parte Young exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Furthermore, the court allowed Plaintiff’s due process claim to advance to discovery after balancing Plaintiff’s high interest in completing his degree against Defendants’ low burden of providing additional safeguards—such as allowing Plaintiff’s attorney to be present, giving Plaintiff the opportunity to call and question witnesses, and providing Plaintiff advance notice of all the evidence. The court further found that Plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to support plausible disability discrimination claims under the ADA and RA against Individual Defendants in their official capacities.

Sex Discrimination; Retaliation; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Kortyna v. Lafayette College (3rd Cir. March 30, 2018)

Opinion affirming the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims.  Plaintiff, a tenured physics professor at Lafayette College (LC), alleged that LC discriminated against him based on sex and disability, retaliated against him, violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and breached his employment contract when LC terminated him for retaliating against two students who reported that he had sexually harassed them.  The court dismissed Plaintiff’s discrimination claims after finding no plausible evidence to suggest that he was fired for an unlawful reason.  The court noted that Plaintiff’s FMLA retaliation claim “fare[d] no better,” since the evidence suggested that Plaintiff took medical leave “to try to initiate a whole new, other disciplinary process,” and Plaintiff continued to retaliate against one of his accusers while his disciplinary proceeding was halted on account of medical leave.  Last, Plaintiff failed to show that he suffered harm in support of his breach of contract claim.

Tenure; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Faculty & Staff; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Monroe v. Columbia College of Chicago and Sheridan (N.D. Ill. April 10, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Counts I, II, and III. Plaintiff, a former tenure-track assistant professor at Columbia College of Chicago (CCC), alleged that CCC racially discriminated against him by denying him tenure and subjected him to a hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of Title VII and section 1981. CCC contended that Plaintiff’s claims were time-barred because Plaintiff filed his EEOC charge 326 days after the Provost denied him tenure on March 18, 2013, while Plaintiff argued that CCC’s final decision to deny him tenure occurred on August 12, 2013, when the President of the University affirmed the Provost’s decision through CCC’s grievance process. Consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Delaware State College v. Ricks and the language of CCC’s policy, the court held that Plaintiffs’ claims under Title VII were time-barred, finding that the limitations period began to run when the Provost made the final tenure decision. The court rejected Plaintiff’s claims of equitable tolling and equitable estoppel and declined to allow his claims to proceed under the continuing violation doctrine, since the Complaint did not identify any discrete acts occurring within limitations period. Finally, the conduct Plaintiff alleged failed to plausibly support a hostile work environment claim, and Plaintiff’s section 1981 claim failed because the actions he alleged, such as “hyper-surveillance of his activities” and refusals to assign him administrative responsibilities, did not occur within the four-year time period preceding the filing of his complaint.

Sex Discrimination; Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Herster and Sullivan v. Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University, et al. (5th Cir. April 4, 2018)

Opinion affirming the district court’s grant of Defendants’ Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law. Plaintiff Herster, a female part-time instructor and Professional-in-Residence at Louisiana State University (LSU)’s School of Art, challenged the district court’s award of summary judgment on: 1) Plaintiff’s Title VII gender discrimination pay claim, 2) Plaintiff’s retaliation claim under Louisiana whistleblower law, and 3) Plaintiff’s tort claim for spoliation of evidence. The court found that Plaintiff failed to provide circumstantial evidence of discrimination in support of her Title VII claim, noting that the two male comparators she proffered had tenure-track positions with different responsibilities, such as conducting research and acquiring research grants. Moreover, a couple of stray comments about Plaintiff being a “trailing spouse” and acting like a “princess” were not sufficient to establish direct evidence of discrimination for Plaintiff’s pay equity claim. The court further found Plaintiff’s retaliation claim under the state’s whistleblower statute unavailing, since Plaintiff was unable to show that LSU’s course fee collection practices violated the Louisiana Constitution. Last, Plaintiff’s claim for spoliation of evidence was properly dismissed because she failed to show that notes taken by a faculty member during a discussion of Plaintiff’s position were intentionally destroyed.

Title IX; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Sex Discrimination; Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Arora, et al. v. Daniels, et al. (W.D. N.C. April 2, 2018)

Order granting Defendant RCCC’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiffs, consisting of the former Chair of the Electronics Engineering Technology Program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (RCCC) and his wife, alleged pro se a number of violations under Title VII, procedural due process, section 1981, Title VI, Title IX, the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and per se negligence against Defendants based on RCCC’s response to Plaintiff’s complaint of discrimination, a March 17, 2015 incident in which police officers conducted a wellness check at Plaintiff’s home, and Plaintiff’s termination. The court found that Plaintiffs had abandoned their Title VII claim, failed to show a causal link in support of their Title VI claim, failed to show an affirmative duty in support of their negligence per se claim, failed to allege facts of harassment resulting from their protected status under the FHA, and failed to allege facts showing sex discrimination under Title IX. Furthermore, the court dismissed Ms. Aurora’s Title IX claim for lack of standing, along with Plaintiffs’ section 1981 claims because they failed to show that RCCC Defendants were motivated by race or that RCCC’s decision to terminate Mr. Aurora was causally connected to his filing a racial discrimination complaint. Last, the court held that RCCC satisfied the constitutional requirements of procedural due process by affording Plaintiff adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard prior to his termination. The court further noted that Plaintiff did not hold a property interest in RCCC’s adherence to its policies on scheduling meetings and issuing warnings, nor was a liberty interest violated by his termination.

Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Sex Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Uyar v. Seli and Yale University (D. Conn. March 31, 2018)

Memorandum of Decision granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendant Yale University’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a Post-Doctoral Fellow and Post-Doctoral Associate who was romantically involved with Defendant Seli, a professor in the Yale School of Medicine, alleged under Title VII that Yale was vicariously liable for quid pro quo sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. Yale argued that Plaintiff’s sexual harassment claims could not proceed to a jury either because her romantic relationship with Seli was consensual or because  Plaintiff’s claims were time-barred or otherwise shielded by Yale’s affirmative defense under Faragher/Ellerth. The court found that there was a dispute of fact about whether the relationship was consensual, noting that Plaintiff attempted to end the relationship several times but was advised by Seli that doing so would mean that she would lose her position at Yale. Plaintiff also testified that she only referred to the relationship as “consensual” in a Yale Committee on Sexual Misconduct complaint due to her cultural understanding of the term as being limited to rape or physical force. The court also rejected Yale’s argument that Plaintiff’s claim was time-barred, instead finding that genuine issues of fact remained as to whether Seli’s conduct fit within the continuing violation exception to Title VII’s limitations period. Last, the court found that Yale could not assert an affirmative defense under Faragher/Ellerth because Plaintiff’s submission to Seli’s advances was a tangible employment action, and a reasonable jury could find Plaintiff’s decision not to take advantage of Yale’s anti-discrimination procedures and policies reasonable under the circumstances. 
Race and National Origin Discrimination; Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Kucuk v. Central Washington University (W.D. Wash. March 30, 2018)

Order granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a U.S. citizen of Turkish national origin who previously worked for Central Washington University (CWU) as a full-time faculty member, alleged under Title VII that CWU’s requirement that applicants possess a doctoral degree from an Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business- accredited university  disparately impacted foreign-born faculty members. Plaintiff also alleged that CWU subjected him to unlawful retaliation when the university failed to renew his employment contract and failed to consider him for a tenure-track faculty position at a satellite campus. The court found Plaintiff’s allegations of disparate impact facially plausible, noting that degree requirements  were used to deny Plaintiff’s application, and Plaintiff sufficiently alleged  CWU’s low percentage or complete absence of foreign-born faculty resulted from the policy. The court dismissed Plaintiff’s failure-to-hire retaliation claim for lack of causation, citing Plaintiff’s own admission that he was not qualified for the position. The court further dismissed Plaintiff’s retaliation claim based both on CWU’s nonrenewal of his employment contract and CWU’s failure to consider his application, because the events occurred outside the limitations period. Last, the Eleventh Amendment barred Plaintiff’s state law claims of tortious conduct.