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

Sanders v. Rodriguez, et al. (S.D. Tex. Feb. 5, 2018)

Opinion granting Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a tenured professor at the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA), alleged that UTPA violated the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) by failing to place her “in the same or equivalent position” after she returned from FMLA leave and by retaliating against her when it disciplined her for engaging in unauthorized outside employment and denied her later employment with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), a newly-created university stemming from UTPA’s legislative dissolution. The court found that all of Plaintiff’s claims were time-barred, with the exception of UTRGV’s rejection of Plaintiff’s employment application. Though the statute of limitations had expired, the court turned to the merits as independent grounds for the decision, holding that Plaintiff had been restored to the same or an equivalent position at the conclusion of her FMLA leave.  Even though Plaintiff was assigned to teach online courses, she retained the same title, pay, and job duties, and it was undisputed that Plaintiff had specifically requested to teach online courses.  Plaintiff’s FMLA retaliation claim failed because she could not establish causation, nor pretext to rebut Defendants’ legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for disciplining her and rejecting her for the UTRGV position. Last, the court found that qualified immunity protected UTPA’s Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs in his personal capacity. 

2/9/2018
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Retaliation; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Williams v. Tarrant County College District (5th Cir. Jan. 18, 2018)

Per Curiam Opinion affirming-in-part and vacating-in-part the district court’s award of summary judgment to the Defendant. Plaintiff is a former writing-lab tutor for Tarrant County College District (TCCD) with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, and hypothyroidism. She alleged that TCCD discriminated against her, failed to accommodate her disability, and retaliated against her in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and Texas state law.  Plaintiff also brought claims of retaliation and failure to restore in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). She argued on appeal that the lower court improperly excluded evidence of her disability and used the wrong standard to assess whether TCCD knew of her disability. The court found that under the directive of the ADA to construe “disability” broadly and under both the ADA's actual and regarded-as standard, Plaintiff’s pleadings sufficiently raised a genuine issue of material fact about whether her impairments were “substantially limiting” and whether TCCD knew of her impairments. The court also found that Plaintiff’s FMLA claims could not proceed because they were time-barred by a two-year statute of limitations, as opposed to a three-year limitations period that would have been in effect if Plaintiff had produce evidence of a willful FMLA violation.

1/25/2018
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Retaliation; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Sex Discrimination; Disability Discrimination; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Age Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Drummer v. Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania (E.D. Pa. Dec. 11, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion granting in part and denying in part Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.  Plaintiff, a fifty-six year old African American man previously employed by the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania alleged against Defendant claims of age, sex, and race discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Title VII, and section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act; disability discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA); and interference and retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Plaintiff cited three adverse employment actions in support of his claims: unequal pay between himself and other employees, Plaintiff’s placement in a performance improvement plan, and Plaintiff’s termination. The court found that only Plaintiff’s allegation of unequal pay could support his age, sex, and race discrimination claims. The court found that Plaintiff’s pleadings in support of his disability discrimination claim did not show that he could perform the essential functions of his job with or without reasonable accommodations, nor did the pleadings establish a causal link between his disability and his termination. The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s disability retaliation claim because Plaintiff did not establish that his activities were protected under the ADA. Last, the court found that at this stage in the proceedings, Plaintiff’s FMLA retaliation and interference claims could proceed, since Plaintiff plead that he had not been restored to the same or an equivalent position following his leave, and since the Defendant did not challenge that assertion. 

12/15/2017
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Retaliation; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Marsh-Godreau v. State University of New York College at Potsdam, et al. (N.D. N.Y. Nov. 28, 2017)

Memorandum Decision and Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, an employee of State University of New York College at Potsdam (SUNY), alleged that SUNY discriminated and retaliated against her in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, New York Human Rights Law, and the Family Medical Leave Act when she discovered a memo detailing her behavioral changes prior to taking medical leave for depression, fibromyalgia, and bipolar II disorder. Additionally, Plaintiff alleged that upon returning from medical leave her responsibilities were reduced and she was subjected to excessive scrutiny through required weekly meetings with her supervisor to “talk about how [they] could work together to” help Plaintiff complete her tasks. The court found that Plaintiff’s allegations failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation because she experienced no materially adverse employment actions, especially given that Plaintiff continued to work at SUNY until her retirement and received annual pay raises following her return from medical leave. 

11/30/2017
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Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Retaliation; Faculty & Staff; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Elizabeth Tarpley v. City Colleges of Chicago (N.D. Ill. August 22, 2017)

Opinion and Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a Director of Information Technology at City Colleges of Chicago, alleged that Defendant failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation, engaged in discrimination, and retaliated against her in violation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as interfered with her rights and retaliated against her for exercising her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Plaintiff took continuous and intermittent FMLA leave and made two requests to work from home as a reasonable accommodation for her disability. The court found no evidence that Defendant refused to provide her with an accommodation because Plaintiff’s first request was quickly followed by her request for a return-to-work authorization, mooting the request, and her second request could not be fully considered before Plaintiff’s resignation five days later. The court further found that Plaintiff failed to plead facts sufficient to show she suffered an adverse employment action for her ADA discrimination and retaliation claims to succeed. Additionally, the court found that Plaintiff’s FMLA interference claim failed because she took all the FMLA leave she was entitled to and Defendant approved all FMLA leave she requested.  Lastly, the court found that Plaintiff’s FMLA retaliation claim also failed because she did not provide any evidence of any actionable adverse employment action. Finding no genuine issue as to any material fact, the court entered judgement for City Colleges on all remaining counts and terminated the case. 

8/28/2017
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Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Carolyn Roys v. Upper Iowa University (N.D. Iowa August 17, 2017)

Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.  Plaintiff alleged that Upper Iowa University discriminated against her for exercising her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) after it fired her from her position as the Director of Academic Success.  Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that various performance concerns leading to her termination were motivated by the fact that she had taken leave under the FMLA to recover from surgery.  The Court found that Plaintiff failed to produce evidence of the requisite intent necessary to establish pretext for discrimination, since Plaintiff conceded poor job performance, neglected to identify a similarly-situated colleague who was treated in a different manner, and failed to identify any way in which the university departed from legal or procedural requirements in administering the FMLA leave or terminating the Plaintiff.

8/21/2017
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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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Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Faculty & Staff; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Maliandi v. Montclair State University (D.N.J. July 17, 2017)

Opinion affirming the magistrate judge’s denial of leave to amend the Complaint, granting MSU’s Motion to Dismiss, and denying Montclair State University’s (MSU) cross-appeal as moot. Plaintiff filed suit against MSU alleging that she was wrongfully terminated from her position in violation of the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and state antidiscrimination law. MSU moved to dismiss the Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on sovereign immunity grounds. The court dismissed MSU’s Motion, concluding that MSU is not the state's alter ego and is subject to suit. On appeal, the Third Circuit reversed and remanded, finding that MSU is in fact an arm of the state and therefore was entitled to sovereign immunity. On remand, Plaintiff moved for leave to amend her Complaint to add two University employees as defendants to the FMLA claim. The magistrate judge denied this Motion because the amendment did not relate back to the original Complaint, over which the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Third Circuit’s decision. The district court affirmed and added that because MSU is immune from suit under the FMLA and the state antidiscrimination law, it was required to dismiss the Complaint in its entirety.  

7/18/2017
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