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; Academic Freedom; Retaliation; First Amendment & Free Speech

Wetherbe v. Texas Tech University System (5th Cir. June 1, 2017)

Per curiam Opinion affirming the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims against the Texas Tech University System (TTU) and reversing and remanding for further proceedings on Plaintiff’s remaining claims against individual Defendants. In a previous suit, a business professor at TTU's Rawls College of Business alleged that various TTU administrators violated the First Amendment by refusing to consider him for more prestigious positions because he did not have tenure and expressed anti-tenure views. A year after that suit was resolved, Plaintiff again filed this suit, this time against TTU and the former Dean of the business school, claiming that recent adverse employment events were motivated by his first lawsuit and by his anti-tenure publications. The district court granted Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss on the grounds that Plaintiff’s speech did not involve a matter of public concern since “[t]enure is a benefit that owes its existence to, and is generally found only in the context of, government employment.” The court also found Plaintiff had failed to state a claim for relief based on his theory that Defendants retaliated against him for filing his first lawsuit. The Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Academic Freedom; First Amendment & Free Speech; Faculty & Staff; Constitutional Issues

Rose v. Haney (N.D. Ill. May 8, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting in part and denying in part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a former Adjunct Professor at the College of Lake County (CLC), filed suit against the College and its Provost for wrongful termination. Defendants claim to have terminated Plaintiff for writing disrespectful emails to faculty and students, but Plaintiff alleges that he was terminated for exercising his First Amendment right to voice concerns he had with the paralegal program. The court found that the speech alleged was not made "pursuant to official duties" in the sense that the speech in question did not relate to Plaintiff's "work product" that had been "commissioned or created" by CLC. Therefore, Plaintiff's spoke in his capacity as a citizen rather than as a public employee. The court then rejected Defendants’ contention that Plaintiff’s speech did not touch upon a matter of public concern because his criticisms were linked to the interests of the students and, by extension, members of the community at large. It also allowed Plaintiff’s due process claim to move forward but dismissed his claims against the Provost. 

Constitutional Issues; Faculty & Staff; First Amendment & Free Speech; Employee Discipline; Due Process; Academic Freedom

McAdams v. Marquette University (Wis. Cir. Ct. May 4, 2017)

Decision and Order denying Plaintiff’s Motions for Summary Judgment and granting Marquette University’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a tenured professor at Marquette, published a post on his personal blog criticizing a graduate student by name and linking to her contact information. After the student received threatening emails, a faculty hearing committee was convened, and the committee found that Plaintiff’s conduct “clearly and substantially” failed to meet the University’s standards of personal and professional excellence. Plaintiff sued, alleging breach of contract and violations of his rights to academic freedom and free expression. The court found that the University was owed “due weight deference” in its disciplinary decision-making based on the fact that Plaintiff had agreed to abide by the disciplinary procedures incorporated into his employment contract, and ultimately found that Marquette afforded Plaintiff the process he was due under contract. On Plaintiff’s academic freedom claim, the court concluded that, “[e]ven putting deference aside and deciding this issue independently, as a matter of law, the actions of [Plaintiff] in posting [the student’s] name and contact information are clearly not an exercise of his ‘right of academic freedom,’ but an act he should have foreseen would create harm and anguish to a graduate student.” The court reached a similar determination regarding Plaintiff’s free speech claim, finding that there was substantial evidence to support the faculty committee’s conclusion. 
Retaliation; First Amendment & Free Speech; Academic Freedom; Faculty & Staff; Constitutional Issues

Bhattacharya v. Rockland Community College (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 15, 2017)

Opinion and Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Defendants declined to renew Plaintiff’s adjunct teaching contract at Rockland Community College (RCC) after an anonymous group of students sent the administration a letter complaining of Plaintiff’s teaching and grading methods. Plaintiff believed that the students behind the anonymous letter were merely upset because he refused to provide them with exam answers ahead of time, reported their attempt to cheat to RCC, and issued some of those students failing grades. He filed suit alleging First Amendment retaliation and violation of his right to academic freedom. Despite Plaintiff’s raising “numerous grandiose public interest concerns” associated with his speech, the Court concluded that Plaintiff was speaking as an employee on matters concerning his employment duties, rather than as a citizen on matters of public concern. Additionally, Plaintiff’s allegations did not involve the substance of his academic expression or ideas and thus did not constitute a legally-cognizable claim for infringement of academic freedom.