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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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. 

Sex Discrimination; Retaliation; Religious Discrimination; Disability Discrimination; Age Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Heit v. Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, et al. (E.D. Pa. Nov. 29, 2017)

Memorandum granting Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a forty-eight year old Jewish woman and former employee of the University of Pennsylvania Dental School, alleged that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her age, sex, religion, and disability; retaliated against her for filing internal complaints; and created a hostile work environment in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Title VII, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) after she was terminated for underperformance and for submitting a false timesheet. The court found that Plaintiff’s age discrimination claim failed because she could not show that her termination was pretextual or that discriminatory animus was the but-for cause for her termination. Additionally, Plaintiff’s disparate treatment and ADA claims failed because she did not allege circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. Moreover, Plaintiff failed to produce evidence of intentional discrimination that was so severe or pervasive that it amounted to a hostile work environment, and her retaliation claim failed because she could not show a causal connection between her termination and her protected activity of filing internal complaints two years prior.

Religious Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Memorandum on Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty Issued By Attorney General Sessions (Oct. 6. 2017)

Memorandum issued to all administrative agencies and executive departments from Attorney General Sessions regarding religious liberty protections in federal law. The memorandum, issued pursuant to Executive Order No. 13798, identifies twenty principles of religious liberty that should guide administrative agencies and executive departments in their efforts to provide reasonable accommodations for religious observance and practice in all government activities. The Attorney General also issued a second memorandum that implements the religious liberty guidance within the Department of Justice. 

Religious Discrimination; Accreditation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Authorizations & Regulations

Illinois Bible Colleges Association v. Lindsay Anderson (7th Cir. 2017)

Opinion and Order affirming the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ suit. Plaintiffs—two associations representing Bible Colleges, a group of Bible Colleges, and a college student attending a Bible College—alleged that the statutory accreditation requirements enforced by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (Board) violated their rights under the Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, Equal Protection Clause, their right to free speech and association, and state law. Applying the Lemon test, the court found that the State’s accreditation standards did not violate the Establishment Clause because they were broadly applicable to all post-secondary institutions and furthered a secular state interest in maintaining standards for these institutions.  Plaintiff’s “as-applied” challenge failed because Plaintiffs never applied for certification, and thus the Court could not determine whether the accreditation statutes were applied in an unconstitutional manner. The court further found that the statutes were not religiously motivated in violation of the Free Exercise Clause because they target both religious and non-religious institutions. The court affirmed dismissal of Plaintiff’s remaining constitutional and state law claims. 

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

Brown v. William Rainey Harper College (N.D. Ill. Aug. 1, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting in part and denying in part William Rainey Harper College’s (Harper) Motion to Dismiss. An African-American woman was enrolled in a nursing program at Harper until she was dismissed for reasons unclear based on the record. She claimed that several faculty members at the College discriminated against her based on her race and religion in deciding to expel her, and that they harassed her in the months leading up to her removal for discussing incidents of discrimination with the Office for Civil Rights. She further alleged that a College employee “leaked” her education files to other students. Plaintiff filed a pro se suit against Harper for Title VI discrimination and retaliation, sex discrimination under Title IX, First Amendment retaliation through Section 1983, and violations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The court found that Plaintiff’s allegations, when read broadly, were sufficient to state Title VI discrimination and First Amendment retaliation claims but failed to state a plausible claim for relief under the remaining statutes.

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

Russell v. New York University (S.D.N.Y. July 17, 2017)

Opinion and Order granting New York University’s Motion for Summary Judgment on all federal claims and declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over remaining state law claims. A former adjunct faculty member at NYU complained that another faculty member was placing her on mailing lists to which she had not subscribed and impersonating her online. However, Plaintiff was ultimately terminated for harassing, intimidating, and threatening the faculty member she believed was responsible for the mailings and impersonations. Plaintiff filed suit against the University, an NYU dean, and two faculty members for violations of Title VII, Title IX, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and state antidiscrimination law. The court concluded that no reasonable factfinder could find that NYU had failed to take reasonable steps to remedy the alleged harassment. Additionally, Plaintiff failed to demonstrate circumstances giving rise to an inference that she was terminated because of her sex, age, or religion.

Religious Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer (U.S. June 26, 2017)

Opinion and Order reversing the Eight Circuit and remanding for further proceedings. Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri applied for and was denied state grant funding to resurface the playground at its preschool and daycare center. Missouri's Department of Natural Resources justified the denial based on its policy categorically disqualifying religious organizations from receiving grants. Trinity Lutheran brought suit, claiming the policy violated its free exercise of religion. The district court dismissed the Church's claims, finding that the First Amendment did not compel the government to make public funds available to religious institutions. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, and the Supreme Court reversed. It held that, by denying Trinity Lutheran a public benefit made available to other non-profit organizations because of Trinity Lutheran's religious status, the Department had violated the Church's rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. 
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Retaliation; Sex Discrimination; Retaliation; Religious Discrimination; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Equal Protection; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Constitutional Issues

Shutlz v. Dixie State University (E.D. Mo. May 11, 2017)

Memorandum Decision and Order granting in part and denying in party Defendants’ Partial Motion to Dismiss. Dixie State University’s first female vice president alleged she was subjected to discriminatory conduct on the basis of her gender and religion by two University presidents, both of whom are male and Mormon. Specifically, she claimed that she was paid less than her male vice president colleagues, was told by the first president that she was a professional liability due to the fact that she is a female and a non-Mormon, was taken out of the rotation for being in charge during the President’s absence, was assigned undesirable projects, was suspended after she was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening condition, and was ultimately terminated and replaced with a Mormon male vice president. The court found that Plaintiff’s allegations were sufficient to constitute viable Title VII claims based on alleged disparate treatment but not based on an allegedly hostile work environment because her claims were based on speculation. It dismissed Plaintiff’s breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and Section 1983 Equal Protection claims against all Defendants; her Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Equal Pay Act claims against Dixie State; and her retaliation claim against the first Defendant president.