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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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. 
Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Retaliation; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence

Bell v. Baruch College - CUNY (S.D.N.Y. March 9, 2018)

Opinion & Order granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a former employee of Baruch College (BC) within City University of New York, alleged under Title VII and analogous state law that BC subjected him to a hostile work environment and retaliated against him after he made formal and informal complaints of sexual harassment based on three occasions where a fellow employee touched his bicep and shoulder blade. The court found that the alleged conduct was not objectively “severe or pervasive” to rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment. Liberally construing Plaintiff’s pro se complaint, the court allowed Plaintiff’s retaliation claim to proceed after finding that an elapsed time of five months between Plaintiff’s complaint and Plaintiff’s termination was sufficient to establish a causal connection. Last, the court found that Eleventh Amendment immunity barred Plaintiff’s state law claims.

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

Slabisak v. Univ. of Tex. Health Sci. Ctr. at Tyler (E.D. Tex. Feb. 27, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.  Plaintiff, a medical resident at the University of Texas Health and Science Center at Tyler (UTHSC) alleged that she was subjected to a hostile work environment in violation of Titles VII and IX.  UTHSC moved for partial dismissal, arguing that Plaintiff’s Title VII claim preempted Plaintiff’s Title IX claim.  Relying on Fifth Circuit precedent in Lakoski v. James, the court concluded that Title VII was the “exclusive remedy” for individuals alleging employment discrimination on the basis of sex, and that Title VII, therefore, “preempt[ed] any private right of action for employment discrimination under Title IX.”

Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; First Amendment & Free Speech; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Buchanan v. Alexander, et al. (M.D. La. Jan. 10, 2018)

Ruling granting Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and denying Plaintiff’s Cross-Motion. Plaintiff, a tenured professor at Louisiana State University (LSU), alleged that Defendants infringed upon her freedom of speech, academic freedom, and procedural and substantive due process rights when LSU’s Board of Supervisors terminated her employment after finding that her remarks about marriage and sex to students—made while training students for preschool to third-grade instruction—violated the University’s Policy Statements on Sexual Harassment. Plaintiff also brought a facial and as-applied constitutional challenge to LSU’s sexual harassment policy, arguing that it was overbroad and lacked an objective test for offensiveness. The court found that Plaintiff’s First Amendment claims failed either because they were time-barred or because qualified immunity protected Defendants’ objectively reasonable actions, notwithstanding the fact that Plaintiff failed to show that her remarks were protected speech or germane to a legitimate pedagogical purpose. The court further found that LSU’s sexual harassment policy was constitutional, both facially and as-applied to Plaintiff, since its language required conduct to be objectively severe and examples provided in the policy illustrated that conduct must be sufficiently severe and pervasive. Last, the court found that Plaintiff was afforded procedural and substantive due process to satisfy constitutional standards leading up to her termination. 

Title IX; Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Chambers v. Tennessee Board of Regents, Southwest Tennessee Community College (W.D. Tenn. July 28, 2017)

Order denying Plaintiff’s Motion to Amend Complaint and granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. A female student claimed that Southwest Tennessee Community College (STCC) failed to conduct an adequate investigation and take appropriate remedial action in response to her complaints that a male employee sexually assaulted her and created an environment conducive to sexual misconduct. According to the Complaint, however, STCC conducted an initial investigation, referred Plaintiff to counseling, and transferred the male employee to another department. The fact that Plaintiff preferred that the male employee be terminated rather than transferred was not sufficient to support a Title IX claim. The Tennessee Board of Regents, STCC, and the individual Defendants in their official capacities were immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Plaintiff’s substantive and procedural due process claims against all the individual Defendants--except the alleged perpetrator in his unofficial capacity--were dismissed for failure to identify a violation of a clearly established right. Finally, the alleged perpetrator’s conduct, though perhaps “deplorable,” was not sufficient to establish a constitutional claim. 

Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Faculty & Staff

Irrera v. Humpherys (2d Cir. June 15, 2017)

Opinion and Order affirming-in-part and vacating-in-part the district court’s order. A graduate piano student at the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester alleged that the Chair of the Piano Department made unwanted sexual advances toward him and threatened to “make his life a living hell” if he reported the misconduct. He filed a retaliation claim against the Chair and the University, claiming that the Chair gave negative references to potential employers and prevented him from finding employment after graduation, all because Plaintiff rejected the Chair’s advances. Concluding that his claim was grounded in speculation, the district court dismissed Plaintiff’s suit. The Second Circuit reversed, finding that, although it was “not impossible that all 28 schools to which he applied for open teaching positions deemed his credentials insufficient to warrant an interview, it is plausible that these schools received negative references from the chairman.” Moreover, because colleges and employers rarely disclose the content of the references they receive, the absence of direct evidence regarding the alleged negative references was reasonable at this stage in the litigation. 

Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Students; Title IX; Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence

Armstrong v. James Madison University (W.D. Va. June 1, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion adopting the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation and dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint. James Madison University (JMU) revoked Plaintiff’s alumni membership to the recreation center in response to a sexual harassment complaint.  Plaintiff alleged that JMU violated several federal and state laws, including Title IX, by revoking his gym membership. The magistrate judge recommended that all claims brought under Section 1983 and state law against JMU, along with all claims seeking monetary damages against the other defendants in their official capacities, be dismissed with prejudice because the claims are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. Additionally, the magistrate judge recommended dismissal of Plaintiff’s Title IX claims against the individual defendants because Title IX does not provide a cause of action against individuals.  Finally, the magistrate judge recommended dismissal of his remaining claims for failure to state a claim. The district court agreed, finding Plaintiff’s objections to the magistrate’s ruling to be “entirely without merit.”

Sexual Misconduct – Employment

Doe v. Alger (W.D. Va. Apr. 25, 2017)

This was the remedies phase of an action in which the court previously awarded summary judgment to Plaintiff Doe for due process violations that occurred during the appeals phase of a sexual misconduct proceeding.  The parties jointly agreed to several remedies but disagreed as to others, three of which were addressed in the decision:  whether James Madison University (JMU) could subject Plaintiff to a new appellate proceeding; whether JMU must destroy certain records relating to the charge against Plaintiff; and whether JMU should be enjoined from making any notations on Plaintiff's transcript once the proceeding concluded.  Applying the standard remedy for due process violations (that is, allowing new proceedings with constitutionally-adequate process), and recognizing the interests of the university in adjudicating sexual misconduct cases, the court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that, if he elects to re-enroll at JMU, JMU not be permitted to conduct another appeal board hearing on the misconduct charge against him. Relying on its "broad equitable power to direct a party to take an action that would otherwise be prohibited by state law," the Court ordered JMU to destroy certain records relating to the charge against Plaintiff, despite JMU's argument that doing so would violate State law.  Finally, the court enjoined JMU from making any notation on Plaintiff's transcript, regardless of the outcome of the pending appellate proceeding, because the State law mandating such notations went into effect after the initial misconduct case was decided.  The court reasoned, "[H]ad Doe received a constitutionally adequate appeal process, even if he had been found responsible for misconduct that would otherwise require a notation, no notation would have been [required]."