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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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Sex Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Retaliation; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Kirby v. State of North Carolina (E.D.N.C. Feb. 9, 2018)

Order granting Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, whose enrollment in North Carolina State University (NCSU)’s College of Veterinary Medicine was terminated in 1994 and who now proceeds pro se, brought claims against Defendant for deprivation of due process; violations of Title IX, specifically sex discrimination, continuing patterns or practice of discrimination by the state, and retaliation; and breach of contract based on allegations that NCSU unlawfully changed her grades from passing to failing. Plaintiff sought to bypass Title IX’s three-year statute of limitations by asserting that her claims accrued in 2017, upon discovery of tuition overpayments to NCSU by the U.S. Department of Education. Rejecting Plaintiff’s theory, the court found that Plaintiff’s claims based on her 1994 termination were either time-bared or precluded by a prior 2013 action against NCSU, which was dismissed for failure to state a claim. Last, the court dismissed Plaintiff’s breach of contract and deprivation of due process claims because they failed to state a plausible claims for relief. 

2/21/2018
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Retaliation; Sex Discrimination; Race and National Origin Discrimination; First Amendment & Free Speech; Equal Protection; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Constitutional Issues

Smith v. Mississippi State University, et al. (N.D. Miss. Feb. 16, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, an African-American woman who worked for Mississippi State University (MSU) as a Family Consumer Science Extension Agent, brought against MSU and Individual Defendants in their official and individual capacities a Title VII claim for retaliation and section 1983 claims for 1) sex discrimination, 2) race discrimination, 3) violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendment, and 4) conspiracy. The court found that Plaintiff could not bring section 1983 claims against MSU because it was not a “person” within the meaning of the statute, while Eleventh Amendment immunity protected Individual Defendants in their official capacity. Dismissing Plaintiff’s individual capacity claims under section 1983—which included conspiracy, failure to investigate sexual harassment, First Amendment retaliation, and a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause—the court found that Plaintiff either failed to allege requisite facts to establish each claim or Individual Defendants were protected by qualified immunity. Last, Plaintiff’s Title VII claim failed because Individual Defendants were employees and not employers within the meaning of the statue. 

2/20/2018
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Retaliation; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Phillips v. Prince George’s Community College, et al. (D. Md. Feb. 12, 2018)

Memorandum and Opinion granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss with prejudice.  Plaintiff, an Associate Professor at Prince George’s County Community College (PGCC), alleged that PGCC created a racially hostile environment and retaliated against him when the Department Chair accused him of unprofessional conduct, gave him a difficult teaching schedule, put him on a Performance Improvement Plan, and allegedly corralled employees to file complaints against him. The court dismissed Plaintiff’s race discrimination claims because Plaintiff neglected to put Defendants on notice of this claim in the charge filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The court dismissed Plaintiff’s retaliation claims either because he failed to identify an adverse employment action or neglected to include the dates of the purported retaliatory actions in the Complaint.  According to the court, neither putting an employee on a performance improvement plan nor requiring an employee to attend a conference on a holiday weekend amounted to adverse employment actions.  While corralling employees to file complaints against Plaintiff would constitute an adverse employment action, and while changing an employee’s work schedule could, under special circumstances, be deemed to be an adverse employment action, Plaintiff did not specify the dates of the actions in the Complaint.  Although this omission normally would have been curable, the court dismissed the action with prejudice because Defendants had raised the pleading deficiencies in a pre-motion conference, and Plaintiff did not cure them.

2/14/2018
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Retaliation; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Herron-Williams v. Alabama State University (M.D. Ala. Feb. 6, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, an African-American tenured professor at Alabama State University (ASU), alleged under Title VII that Defendant discriminated against her based on race and gender, and retaliated against her based on 1) an email she sent to ASU’s President and 2) a charge she filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In support of her discrimination claims, Plaintiff points to the denial of her request for equipment while serving as supervisor of the Office of Minority and International Affairs (OMIA), her removal from the OMIA supervisor position, her removal as faculty athletic representative (FAR), and a salary reduction. The court found that Plaintiff did not plead a prima facie case of race or gender discrimination since she could not show that she was treated less favorably than a similarly-situated employee outside of her protected class. The court further concluded that Plaintiff could not prove causation or pretext for her retaliation claim relating to the email she sent ASU’s President. Although Plaintiff stated in the email that she believed she had been subjected to unlawful discrimination, the court deemed that belief to be objectively unreasonable, and as such, the email did not constitute a “protected activity” for purposes of a retaliation analysis. The court also awarded judgment to the Defendant on Plaintiff’s second retaliation claim—where she alleged her salary was cut by $20,000 after filing an EEOC charge—since the temporal proximity between the protected activity and adverse employment action was too attenuated, spanning two months at its shortest and six months at its longest. 

2/12/2018
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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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Race and National Origin Discrimination; Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Tamari v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University (S.D Ill. Feb. 5, 2018)

Memorandum and Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, who worked in Southern Illinois University (SIU)’s Department of International Student Services, alleged that SIU discriminated against her based on her Palestinian nationality when three separate search committees declined to appoint her to various positions in the Office of International Programs.  Plaintiff also alleged SIU’s hiring decisions were improperly motivated by retaliatory animus, as a result of two separate charges she had filed with the Office of Institutional Compliance (OIC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Though Plaintiff satisfied her prima facie burden, the court found that Plaintiff failed to establish pretext, since she offered no evidence to rebut the hiring committee’s affidavits attributing the hiring decision to poor performance on phone interviews and averring that they did not consider Plaintiff’s nationality in the hiring process.  The court further found that Plaintiff’s retaliation claim relating to three other job positions failed because: 1) she could not establish that her complaints with the OIC and EEOC were causally connected to the Provost’s decision to reorganize the International Programs Office, which eliminated the open position she applied for, 2) she could not prove that she was qualified for an Executive Director position since she lacked the requisite five years of experience in a directorial role, and 3) she failed to plead retaliation relating to a hiring manager's rejection of her application for a different director position. 

2/8/2018
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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].” 

2/8/2018
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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. 

2/8/2018
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