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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Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Bivines v. Temple University (E.D. Pa. Jan. 8, 2018)

Order denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.  Plaintiff, a housekeeper at Temple University, alleged that Temple maintained a hostile work environment and wrongfully terminated Plaintiff.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission denied Plaintiff’s claims as being untimely, though Plaintiff did not specify the exact date of termination on his complaint.  In denying the Motion to Dismiss, the court rejected Defendant’s argument that an untimely filing amounted to a failure to exhaust administrative remedies.  Rather, the court concluded that filing the charge and receiving a right-to-sue letter satisfied the “basic prerequisites for federal jurisdiction.”

Retaliation; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Zavaglia v. Boston University School of Medicine (D. Ma. Jan. 8, 2018)

Memorandum and Order awarding summary judgment to the Defendant.  Plaintiff, an Instructional Technology Specialist, alleged that the Boston University School of Medicine (BU) denied him a reasonable accommodation when it refused to shift the start time of Plaintiff’s schedule from 10:30am to 11am.  Plaintiff further alleged that BU retaliated against him by terminating his employment, after he was repeatedly warned about chronic tardiness.  In awarding judgment to the Defendant, the court concluded that Plaintiff failed to meet his burden of explaining how the requested accommodation was necessary, when the medical documentation specified only that Plaintiff needed an hour-and-a-half of time each morning to exercise. Even if Plaintiff had satisfied his burden, the court deemed it unreasonable to require the Defendant to create a new shift with a later start time.  The court awarded judgment to the Defendant on Plaintiff’s retaliation claim, because the two-year time period that elapsed between Plaintiff’s request for an accommodation and his employment termination was too remote to support a causal link.

Immigration & International Activities; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Kader v. Board of Regents of Harris-Stowe State University (Mo. Ct. App. Jan. 9, 2018)

Opinion reversing a jury verdict and remanding the action for a new trial.  Plaintiff, an instructor in Early Childhood Development at Harris-Stowe State University (HSSU), alleged that HSSU discriminated against her based on national origin and retaliated against her by declining to appeal the denial of her O-1 visa and refusing to grant her a leave of absence.  A jury found in Plaintiff’s favor, in part based on disjunctive jury instructions that required the jury to find in favor of the Plaintiff if it concluded that “Defendant denied Plaintiff a work leave of absence” and that the denial stemmed from discriminatory animus.  Having concluded that federal law precluded HSSU from employing Plaintiff after her visa expired, and that compliance with federal law and not discriminatory animus motivated Defendant’s decision to deny Plaintiff the requested leave of absence, the court concluded that the jury instructions were erroneous and prejudiced the Defendant.

Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Students and Parents for Privacy, et al. v. U.S. Dep’t of Educ., et al. (N.D. Ill. Dec. 29, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion and Order adopting the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation. Plaintiffs, an unincorporated association entitled “Students and Parents for Privacy” and various minors represented by their parents or guardians, brought Title IX and constitutional privacy claims against the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice (federal defendants), the School of Directors of Township High School District 211, and unnamed Students A, B, and C, seeking to enjoin a district policy that allowed transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.  The court dismissed much of the action as moot, since Plaintiffs had voluntarily dismissed the federal defendants after they withdrew joint guidance underlying Plaintiff’s federal claims.  As to the remaining claims, the court found that Plaintiffs failed to show a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits,  irreparable harm, or lack of an adequate remedy at law. Specific to Plaintiffs’ Title IX claim, the court determined that Plaintiffs relied on a narrower interpretation of “sex” discrimination than that recognized in the Seventh Circuit, which interprets Price Waterhouse’s analysis of sex stereotyping as protecting transgender individuals. The court also rejected Plaintiff’s constitutional privacy claim, reasoning that the District’s policy did not provoke a “forced or extreme invasionof privacy,” as would be necessary to sustain a constitutional privacy claim, especially since Plaintiffs at all times had access to privacy stalls.

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

Cardoso v. The Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota Duluth (D. Minn. Jan. 5, 2018)

Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, an African-American Director of Dining Services for the University of Minnesota Duluth (UM), alleged that UM discriminated against him on the basis of his race, color, and national origin in violation of Title VII when UM declined to renew his employment contract. In support of this decision, UM pointed to a “strained relationship” with the Minnesota Teamsters Public and Law Enforcement Employees Union 320, an instance in which Plaintiff undermined a supervisor’s directive by attempting to secretly implement a primary vendor system,  and poor communication and management skills. The court found that Plaintiff could not show that Defendant’s reasons for terminating him were pretextual, since Plaintiff did not dispute that his actions provoked union grievances and that his management and communication skills were substandard. The court further found that Plaintiff could not show pretext because he failed to rebut UM’s factual account of the primary vendor system incident. 

Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Stephens v. The Board of Supervisors of the University of Louisiana System (E.D. La. Dec. 27, 2017)

Order denying Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, an African-American woman and former custodian employed by Defendant, alleged that Defendant retaliated against her in violation of Title VII and state law after she filed a grievance for race discrimination with her employer and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The court found that Plaintiff sufficiently established a prima facie case of discrimination and Defendant sufficiently produced legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for their employment decisions—specifically, Plaintiff received negative performance reviews and was transferred to another location because of her personal use of office equipment and for several instances of rude, unprofessional behavior. However, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, the court found that a reasonable jury could find pretext with Defendant’s proffered reasons and allowed the case to proceed.  

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

Kihutu v. Winona State University and Metropolitan State University (D. Minn. Dec. 13, 2017)

Report of the Magistrate Judge recommending that the case be summarily dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiff, a former student of Winona State University (WSU) and Metropolitan State University (MSU), alleged that Defendants discriminated against him on the basis of his race and nationality by making an error on his WSU transcript, accusing him of plagiarism, mailing his diploma to an incorrect address, and engaging in other acts or omissions that purportedly stemmed from discriminatory animus. Despite liberally construing Plaintiff’s pro se pleadings, the court found Plaintiff’s race and nationality claims—which would have raised a federal question for subject matter jurisdiction—did not allege beyond conclusory allegations that Defendants acted with a race-based discriminatory motive. The court further found that Plaintiff’s pleadings failed to establish diversity jurisdiction.

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

Duffin v. Idaho State University, et al. (D. Idaho, Dec. 21, 2017)

Memorandum Decision and Order granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and a former member of the men’s tennis team at Idaho State University (ISU), alleged that ISU officials impaired his free exercise of religion, deprived him of substantive due process, infringed protected speech, and engaged in various tortious acts by harassing and disparaging Plaintiff for participating in a LDS mission and abstaining from alcohol and premarital sex. The court found that Defendants waived Eleventh Amendment immunity by stipulating to an extended scheduling order and summary judgment deadline—where Defendants intended to raise the issue of sovereign immunity for the first time—as a tactical attempt to have the statute of limitations run on Plaintiff’s claims in state court. However, the court found that Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff’s free exercise claim because Defendant’s remarks and actions, while inappropriate, did not rise to the level of coercion or substantial pressure to modify Plaintiff’s behavior, as required in a free exercise of religion claim, and thus did not amount to a violation of a clearly established constitutional right. The court further found no property interest vested in Plaintiff’s education or scholarship to substantiate his substantive due process claim. On Plaintiff’s state law claims, the court allowed Plaintiff’s NIED claim to proceed and submitted a certified question of law to the Idaho Supreme Court to determine whether a special relationship existed between a student and a university, as required by Plaintiff’s negligence claims.