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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; Age Discrimination; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Sims v. The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Nov. 1, 2017)

Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a sixty-four year old African American custodian for Columbia University (CU), alleged that CU discriminated against him based on race, age, and disability,  created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against him for complaining about discrimination in violation of New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). The court found that Plaintiff failed to show that the terms and conditions of his employment were discriminatory or that similarly-situated custodians not in Plaintiff's protected classes were treated more favorably, even under the more liberal “mixed-motive” standard of New York state law that requires Plaintiffs to show unlawful discrimination as just one, among many, of the motivating factors behind an employer’s adverse action. Furthermore, the court found that the facts supporting Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim—namely, racial epithets made on three occasions over nine years and purported age-related statements from his supervisor and co-workers—were either isolated incidents that did not pervade the work environment or were too vague to infer bias. Last, the court found that Plaintiff’s retaliation claim could not proceed because Plaintiff's sole complaint was investigated by CU and the subsequent retaliatory actions he alleged were not causally connected.

11/14/2017
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Tenure; Faculty & Staff; Age Discrimination; Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Howell v. Millersville University of Pennsylvania, et al. (E.D. Pa. October 20, 2017)

Opinion granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a tenured choral professor at Millersville University (MU), alleged that MU discriminated against him based on his age, created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against him for exercising free speech when he was denied a promotion, demoted, and subjected to two internal investigations. Although there were two stray, but later corrected comments about an individual Defendant’s desire to hire a “young and charismatic” Choral Director, the court dismissed Plaintiff’s age discrimination claim because Plaintiff failed to produce any evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could conclude that unlawful pretext motivated the employment decision, and not Plaintiff’s inadequate qualifications,  insufficient job performance in conducting the choir, inadequate supervision of students (which directly resulted in loss of host schools for student teachers), and other performance concerns.  Addressing Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, the court found that Plaintiff failed to show that he suffered intentional discrimination and that such discrimination was severe and pervasive. With respect to Plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim, the court found that Plaintiff’s speech—consisting of a union grievance, a Tumblr post criticizing his department, and a Facebook post defending his teaching methods—were not protected by the First Amendment and even if they were, Defendants could prove that they would have taken the same actions in the absence of Plaintiff’s speech. Notably, as to Plaintiff’s argument that the speech was protected by academic freedom, the Court emphasized that “[t]he institution, not the teacher, has control over the ‘four essential freedoms’ that comprise academic freedom.”

10/30/2017
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Age Discrimination; Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Robert Musante v. Mohawk Valley Community College (N.D. N.Y. September 18, 2017)

Memorandum and Order denying Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a former professor of Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC), alleged age and gender discrimination, retaliation, and defamation against Defendants in violation of Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and New York laws. MVCC terminated Plaintiff following an investigation of student complaints that accused him of inappropriate classroom behavior. After his termination, Plaintiff attributed his difficulty finding work to purportedly defamatory statements made by MVCC employees to two potential employers. The court found that Plaintiff advanced sufficient evidence to rebut Defendant’s non-discriminatory reason for his termination, reasoning that Defendant’s failure to describe MVCC’s standard investigative process, questions about the legitimacy of MVCC’s disciplinary process,  and the “cloud” of uncertainty surrounding Plaintiff’s allegations that younger, female faculty exhibited similar behavior without adverse outcomes, amounted to triable issues of fact. The court also found that Plaintiff’s defamation claims could proceed to trial because disputed issues of fact precluded summary judgment. 

9/22/2017
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Race and National Origin Discrimination; Age Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Faculty & Staff

Chun-Seng Yu v. The University of Houston at Victoria, The University of Houston System (S.D. Tex. August 23, 2017)

Opinion and Order of Partial Dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims, with the exception of Plaintiff’s Title VII claims. Plaintiff alleged age and national origin discrimination and retaliation against Defendants, the University of Houston at Victoria (UHV) and University of Houston System (UH System), in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and Texas human rights and employment laws. The court found that UHV is a part of the UH System and, as “agencies, arms, and instrumentalities of the State of Texas,” were entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. As a result, Plaintiff’s claims under the ADEA and pendent state law claims were dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and Plaintiff’s Title VII claim remains pending.

8/28/2017
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Sex Discrimination; Retaliation; Age Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Jensen v. University of Utah (D. Utah Aug. 10, 2017)

Memorandum Decision and Order dismissing four of Plaintiff’s causes of action. Plaintiff served as an Executive Secretary at the University of Utah’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine until she was terminated due to the University’s determination that “there [was] not enough work to justify [her] position.” Prior to her termination, she had initiated a discrimination and retaliation suit against the University. The court dismissed Plaintiff’s age discrimination claim as barred by the Eleventh Amendment and dismissed her gender discrimination and contractual claims after Plaintiff did not oppose the University’s arguments for dismissal on those counts.

8/14/2017
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Sex Discrimination; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Disability Discrimination; Age Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Bunch v. University of Arkansas Board of Trustees (8th Cir. July 24, 2017)

Order affirming the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the University of Arkansas. An African-American woman was hired as a program eligibility specialist for the University. During the preliminary 90-day probationary period, she refused to sign a performance review due to the negative marks she received on cooperation.  She also filed a grievance alleging discriminatory harassment by her coworkers, and was ultimately terminated for missing work after she attempted to take unpaid leave for which she was not eligible. She filed suit alleging claims under Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). After the district court granted summary judgment to the University, Plaintiff appealed all but her Section 504 and FMLA claims. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding that sovereign immunity barred Plaintiff’s ADA, ADEA, Section 1981 and Section 1983 claims, and that Plaintiff’s allegations of race and gender discrimination were not plausible on their face.  

8/9/2017
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Title IX; Retaliation; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Faculty & Staff; Retaliation; Age Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; First Amendment & Free Speech; Constitutional Issues

Howell v. Millersville University of Pennsylvania (E.D. Pa. July 27, 2017)

Order denying the individual Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, granting Millersville University of Pennsylvania’s Motion to Dismiss, and granting Plaintiff leave to amend. An associate professor at Millersville brought suit against the University and five University faculty members alleging age discrimination and retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), along with retaliation under the First Amendment and Title IX. Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that several faculty members harassed him because of his age, then retaliated against him for criticizing the University online and alerting the University to sex-based harassment that was occurring in one of his classes. The court found that neither sovereign immunity nor the ADEA itself barred Plaintiff’s ADEA claims against the faculty members in their official capacities for prospective injunctive relief. Though Plaintiff’s First Amendment and Title IX retaliation claims against the University failed to state a plausible claim for relief and were dismissed, the court granted Plaintiff leave to amend to clarify whether any alleged retaliatory activity took place after he engaged in a protected activity.

8/1/2017
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Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Sex Discrimination; Disability Discrimination; Faculty & Staff; Age Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Bunch v. University of Arkansas (8th Cir. July 24, 2017)

Order affirming the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the University of Arkansas. An African-American woman was hired as a program eligibility specialist at the University. During her 90-day probationary period, she refused to sign a negative performance review. After she was terminated, Plaintiff filed suit alleging discrimination and retaliation leading to wrongful termination. The Eighth Circuit rejected Plaintiff's claim that the district court failed to consider her status as a pro se litigant. It further concluded that sovereign immunity barred her claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and Sections 1981 and 1983. Additionally, even assuming Plaintiff met her burden of establishing a prima facie case of race and gender discrimination under Title VII, the University offered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her: failure to report for work and the need to fill Plaintiff’s position.

7/27/2017
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