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

Whitson v. State of Tennessee d/b/a the University of Tennessee (E.D. Tenn. July 31, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion granting in part and denying in part the State of Tennessee’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff was a female non-tenure track researcher with the University of Tennessee (UTC) who had arranged to use a lab run by an Assistant Professor. The Assistant Professor allegedly engaged in a series of uncomfortable interactions with Plaintiff, culminating in an attempt to physically force himself on her. After Plaintiff was denied tenure—allegedly in response to the researcher’s complaints of sexual harassment—Plaintiff sued the State, claiming hostile work environment under Title VII, hostile educational environment under Title IX, and Title VII and Title IX gender discrimination and retaliation. The court dismissed the hostile work and educational environment claims as time-barred, given that the alleged incidents of sexual harassment occurred in 2012 and 2013 and were not sufficiently intertwined with the denial of tenure for the purposes of either claim. However, it allowed her gender discrimination and retaliation claims to proceed after finding that Plaintiff’s appeal of her tenure denial was sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the denial constituted an ultimate employment decision.

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

Bunch v. University of Arkansas (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 at the University. During her 90-day probationary period, she refused to sign a negative performance review. After she was terminated, Plaintiff filed suit alleging discrimination and retaliation leading to wrongful termination. The Eighth Circuit rejected Plaintiff's claim that the district court failed to consider her status as a pro se litigant. It further concluded that sovereign immunity barred her claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and Sections 1981 and 1983. Additionally, even assuming Plaintiff met her burden of establishing a prima facie case of race and gender discrimination under Title VII, the University offered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her: failure to report for work and the need to fill Plaintiff’s position.

Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Retaliation; Faculty & Staff; Retaliation; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Swatzell v. Board of Regents of Southeast Missouri State University (E.D. Mo. July 21, 2017)

Order granting the Board of Regents’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff was a tenured professor at Southeast Missouri State University (SMSU) who suffered from schizoaffective disorder. She requested and was denied additional time to respond to an investigation of a student’s report of sexual harassment and retaliation. Claiming she was unlawfully denied accommodation and ultimately terminated because of her disability, Plaintiff filed suit. The court interpreted Plaintiff’s retaliation claim to have been based on actions Plaintiff took to oppose an alleged violation of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)--the alleged failure to accommodate her disability. It then held that retaliation claims brought under Title V of the ADA based on alleged violations of Title I are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Even if Plaintiff had filed under Title II, the alleged actions did not fall into either category of cases where Title II abrogates sovereign immunity. The court also found Plaintiff’s due process claims meritless and dismissed her state law claims on sovereign immunity grounds. 

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

Mann v. Winston-Salem State University (M.D.N.C. July 21, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Winston-Salem State University’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a Caucasian female and former Assistant Professor at Winston-Salem, resigned from her position. In her resignation letter to the Department Chair, Plaintiff accused an African-American tenured professor of taking “a pattern of discriminatory actions” toward her during her five year employment because she was white.  She filed suit against Winston-Salem and the professor, claiming that Winston-Salem retaliated against her for filing two formal complaints of racial discrimination. The court found no direct evidence of retaliation given that, while the tenured professor may have played a role in Plaintiff’s employment circumstances, there was no evidence sufficient to establish that the professor was the decision-maker involved in the alleged adverse actions “such that [the professor’s] discriminatory animus might be deemed direct evidence of retaliation by [Winston-Salem].” After analyzing each alleged employment action, the court concluded that they were either insufficient to constitute materially adverse employment actions or could not have been the result of retaliatory animus. While Winston-Salem’s management of Plaintiff’s department “certainly appear[ed] to have been problematic,” the actions complained of, when considered in the aggregate, did not qualify as sufficiently adverse.

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

Sosa v. Rockland County Community College (S.D.N.Y. July 20, 2017)

Opinion and Order granting Rockland County Community College’s (RCCC) Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a native born United States citizen of Mexican descent and assistant professor at RCCC, was granted tenure as part of a settlement in a federal lawsuit against the College in 1998. When she was denied a promotion in 2003, she again filed suit claiming disparate treatment and intentional discrimination on the basis of her national origin. A district court granted summary judgment to RCCC. RCCC denied her a promotion once again in 2013 due to unsatisfactory performance. She brought this suit, arguing that RCCC’s refusal to grant her application for a promotion constituted discrimination on the basis of her national origin and retaliation for prior protected activities. The court found Plaintiff’s allegations did not support a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation because they failed to establish causal connections between her protected trait, her protected activity, and RCCC’s alleged actions. 

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

Werbach v. University of Arkansas (W.D. Ark. July 14, 2017)

Opinion and Order granting Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff filed suit against the University of Arkansas and three of its employees alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The court determined that, regardless of whether sovereign immunity applied or whether the University was subject to suit, the facts admitted did not indicate that Defendants’ conduct was motivated by animus based on Plaintiff’s existing or perceived disability.

Retaliation; Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Faculty & Staff; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Kleinman v. Fashion Institute of Technology (S.D.N.Y. July 14, 2017)

Opinion and Order granting the Fashion Institute of Technology’s (FIT) Motion to Dismiss. A clinician at the Institute’s counseling center who suffered from a spinal condition limiting her mobility was applying for tenure. She claimed that her colleagues and supervisors harassed her in person and online, that the mistreatment intensified after she reported it to the FIT administration, and that she was denied tenure, all on account of her disability. She sued FIT, then filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations. After filing with the EEOC, she amended her Complaint to add hostile work environment and retaliation claims. FIT moved to dismiss the amended claims, claiming that they were unexhausted, untimely, and meritless. The court concluded that although Plaintiff administratively exhausted the claims, the majority of the allegations supporting them were time-barred under the ADA and that the remaining allegations did not plausibly support an inference of hostile work environment or retaliation.

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

Cromartie v. Alabama State University (11th Cir. July 13, 2017)

Unpublished per curiam Opinion affirming the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s Complaint. Plaintiff alleged that in 2011 and 2012, she was harassed and discriminated against by her employer, Alabama State University, on account of her seizures and asthma. Additionally, she claimed that the University mishandled an investigation of her protests against hazing, which ultimately led to her termination. She filed suit alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and her rights to equal protection and due process, in addition to state law claims. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s federal claims since the limitations period had expired. Furthermore, the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims.