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

Woesler v. Utah Valley University (10th Circuit, Feb. 13, 2018)

Order and Judgment affirming summary judgment for the Defendant.  Plaintiff, a Caucasian male of German descent who had a one-year tenure-track position as coordinator of the Chinese Studies program at Utah Valley University (UVU), alleged that UVU discriminated against him and subjected him to a hostile environment based on race, national origin, and gender, and retaliated against him when UVU declined to award him tenure.  Though Plaintiff produced evidence that his colleagues had made hostile comments, the court concluded that “isolated incidents,” like the ones Plaintiff identified, did not amount to a hostile environment under Title VII.  The court also affirmed judgment for the Defendant on Plaintiff’s disparate treatment claims because the Plaintiff provided no evidence that UVU treated him differently from any similarly situated employee.  Finally, the court affirmed judgment for the Defendant on the issue of retaliation, since Plaintiff offered no evidence suggesting that retaliatory animus was the “but-for” cause of UVU’s decision not to award him tenure. 

Sex Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Athletics Operations; Athletics & Sports

United States v. N.M. State Univ. and N.M. State Univ. Bd. of Regents (D.N.M. Feb. 6, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Order denying Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. The United States brought a claim of pay discrimination under Title VII against Defendants after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found reasonable cause to believe that New Mexico State University (NMSU) engaged in wage discrimination against a female NMSU assistant coach, Meaghan Harkins. The court concluded that Plaintiff had established a prima facie case of discrimination based on evidence that two male comparators were paid more despite having duties and responsibilities that were similar to, or at least as demanding as, the female NMSU assistant coach. As to pretext, the court found that disputed facts about coaches’ duties and qualifications would need to be resolved at trial. 

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

Lindsey v. Bd. of Trustees of the Univ. of Ky., et al. (Ky. App. Feb. 2, 2018)

Opinion affirming-in-part, reversing-in-part, and remanding for further proceedings. Appellant, an African-American woman employed by the University of Kentucky (UK) as a Clinical Coordinator, alleged that UK declined to promote her on three separate occasions, and ultimately terminated her employment, on account of her race and gender in violation of Kentucky’s Civil Rights Act. The court found that Appellant failed to offer direct evidence of discrimination.   Even if the discriminatory comments that Plaintiff identified had been true, they were attributable to an employee who had no involvement in the promotion decisions. The court also found that Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas burden shifting framework because Plaintiff did not apply for the desired position. However, the court found that Appellant’s retaliation claim could proceed under a cat’s paw theory of liability because Appellant’s supervisor testified that she had been instructed to “find a ‘legitimate’ reason to terminate [Plaintiff].” 

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

Miller, et al. v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Minn. (D. Minn. Feb. 1, 2018)

Order granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiffs are three former female coaches of the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) who alleged UMD discriminated against them based on their sex and sexual orientation, created a hostile work environment, retaliated against them for reporting discrimination, and compensated them less than male coaches in violation of Title VII, the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), and the Equal Pay Act (EPA). The court dismissed Plaintiffs’ sexual orientation discrimination claims, because the Eighth Circuit does not recognize sexual orientation as a protected classification under federal law, and Eleventh Amendment immunity protected Defendant from Plaintiffs’ MHRA claims. The Court allowed Plaintiff Miller’s sex discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII to proceed, based on allegations that UMD renewed the contract of the men’s hockey coach, despite the team’s worse performance; applied different criteria in determining which coaching contracts would be renewed; and offered inconsistent explanations for contract decisions.  The court also allowed Plaintiff’s retaliation claim to proceed since Plaintiff showed that UMD declined to renew her contract shortly after she complained about perceived Title IX violations.    Plaintiffs failed to identify severe or pervasive conduct to support a hostile environment claim, nor did they offer any evidence suggesting that pay differences between them and their male comparators were attributable to anything other than gender-neutral market forces. 

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

Fulton v. Mississippi State University, et al. (N.D. Miss. Jan. 29, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, an African-American woman who continues to work as a program assistant for Mississippi State University (MSU), alleged under Title VII that MSU discriminated against her based on her race and sex and retaliated against her by involuntarily transferring her to another county office because of her association with a co-worker who brought sexual harassment claims against MSU. The court found that Plaintiff could not bring race and sex discrimination claims against MSU because she failed to include them in her charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, thereby failing to exhaust her administrative remedies. However, the court found that Plaintiff alleged a prima facie case of retaliation and allowed it to proceed at this early stage in the litigation. The court further found that 1) Eleventh Amendment immunity protected MSU and Individual Defendants in their official capacity from Plaintiff’s claims, 2) Plaintiff’s claims against Individual Defendants were improper because they were not “employers” as defined under Title VII, and 3) Plaintiff was precluded from recovering punitive damages from Defendants. 

Sex Discrimination; Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Hill v. The University of Alabama Board of Trustees (N.D. Ala. Jan. 31, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The University of Alabama (UA) operates the Girls Intensive Education and Treatment Facility, which houses female juvenile offenders with behavioral and mental health needs as part of its Working on Womanhood Program (WOW). UA terminated Plaintiff, a male direct care supervisor at the facility, for violating UA’s policy against entering a female resident’s room without a female staff member present and for moving the resident to a “safe room” despite his direct supervisor’s instructions not to do so. Plaintiff alleged that his termination was motivated by sex discrimination and that the Defendant retaliated against him under Title VII following his termination. The court found that Plaintiff could not establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination because he failed to identify a similarly situated comparator who was treated more favorably under nearly identical circumstances. Even if Plaintiff could establish a prima facie case, he failed to show that  Defendant’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the employment action were pretextual  since Defendant was consistent about their reasons for terminating him, the investigation of Plaintiff’s actions was not motivated by unlawful animus, there was no evidentiary support for Plaintiff’s contention that male and female employees were disciplined differently, and Plaintiff’s change in FMLA status was not circumstantial evidence of discrimination because WOW played no role in approving FMLA leave requests. Plaintiff’s retaliation claim also failed because he could not prove a causal link between his complaints of discrimination and his termination. 

Sex Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Spencer v. Virginia State University, et al. (E.D. Va. Jan. 30, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion granting Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a tenured female professor in Virginia State University (VSU)’s Sociology Department, alleged that VSU violated the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and Title VII by purportedly paying her less than two similarly situated male comparators, Colonel Cortez Dial and Dr. Michael Shackleford, and by retaliating against her after she presented a report on gender equity to VSU administrators and a VSU Board member. The court found that Plaintiff failed to allege a prima facie case of wage discrimination under the EPA and Title VII because Dial and Shackleford were not appropriate comparators—specifically, they taught different subjects in different departments, previously worked for VSU in administrative capacities, and oversaw internships and doctoral programs in their new positions. Completing its analysis under the EPA, the court found that legitimate business reasons other than sex supported Defendants’ method for calculating the salary of current employees who moved to a new position, while the court’s analysis under Title VII provided that Plaintiff failed to prove discriminatory intent. Last, the court found that Plaintiff’s retaliation claims under the EPA and Title VII lacked evidentiary support. 

Sex Discrimination; Faculty & Staff; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Brunarski, et al. v. Miami University (S.D. Ohio, Jan. 26, 2018)

Report and Recommendation denying Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiffs are two female Associate Professors of Finance at Miami University (MU)’s Farmer School of Business and alleged that MU violated the Equal Pay Act (EPA) by paying them less than similarly situated male comparators. The court found that Plaintiffs established a prima facie case of wage discrimination under the EPA because they had different base salaries than two male comparators despite similar job titles, similar hire dates, and similar supervision by the Department Chair. Under the EPA, Defendant was then required to prove that gender played no role in the disparity, either by offering evidence of a merit system or the presence of a legitimate business reason other than sex. The court found that while Defendant proffered three facially neutral factors to explain the pay differences—participation in study-abroad programs, teaching awards, and research—they failed to prove that these factors were actually relied upon to award raises. Specifically, there was no evidence that professors knew that their raises were tied to these factors and that the factors were consistently applied. The court also provided that a professor’s ability to participate in study-abroad programs or to receive teaching awards was based on their Student Evaluation of Teachers (SETs) scores, an evaluation that potentially reflected a “gender penalty” against female faculty in quantitative business disciplines.