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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.

Selected Topics: Faculty & Staff Retaliation
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Practice of Higher Education Law; Retaliation; Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration; Faculty & Staff

Taswell v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal. (Cal. App. May 14, 2018)

Opinion reversing the grant of Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment and Summary Adjudication. Plaintiff, a medical doctor who worked for the University of California (UC) Irvine medical school as a nuclear medicine physician, alleged under state law that Defendant terminated him in retaliation for reporting alleged safety violations to state and federal agencies. Defendant contended that they placed Plaintiff on an investigatory leave of absence and declined to renew his contract because he entered a laboratory without authorization and had interpersonal issues with the staff, among other reasons. Because California law authorized Plaintiff to proceed in court following an adverse administrative decision, the Court deemed it unnecessary for Plaintiff to have filed a petition seeking a writ of mandamus to challenge the administrative decision. Further, the court declined to give preclusive effect to  the administrative decision, rejecting Defendant’s arguments that that matter was barred by res judicata or collateral estoppel. Last, the court found a triable issue of material fact as to whether a causal connection existed between UC’s decision to place Plaintiff on a leave of absence and UC’s decision not to renew his contract.

5/18/2018
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Retaliation; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Faculty & Staff

Carlson v. Chippewa Valley Technical College (W.D. Wis. May 11, 2018)

Opinion and Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a nursing instructor at Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC), alleged that CVTC’s decision to remove her from a special assignment after she took two weeks of medical leave violated the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), breached her employment contract, and breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Defendant contended that it removed Plaintiff from her special assignment based on her difficulty working with other colleagues, among other reasons. In awarding judgment to the Defendant, the court concluded that no reasonable jury could find that Defendant’s legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for removing Plaintiff from her special assignment were unlawfully motivated by Plaintiff having taken FMLA leave.  Although the timing of Plaintiff’s removal from her special assignment was suspicious, that alone was not enough to defeat summary judgment because Plaintiff’s difficulty working with other colleagues was not genuinely disputed, and the problems persisted after she returned from FMLA leave. The court discredited Plaintiff’s allegation that CVTC expected her to do work while on FMLA leave.  An email directing Plaintiff to “develop a plan of continuation of the project while on FML,” was merely an expectation that Plaintiff “plan for her leave” by reassigning or delegating duties, not an expectation that Plaintiff work during her leave. The court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s state law claims.

5/18/2018
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Retaliation; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Tenure; Faculty & Staff

Rodriguez v. Elon University (M.D.N.C. April 27, 2018)

Memorandum and Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a Hispanic professor of Puerto Rican descent and Faculty Director of the Chandler Family Professional Sales Center at Elon University, alleged under Title VII and section 1981 that Elon’s decision to deny him a promotion and tenure was made with discriminatory animus based on national origin and race. The court found that Plaintiff’s evidence did not give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination that would support the fourth prong of the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. Further, Plaintiff could not rebut as pretext the several legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for denying Plaintiff a promotion or tenure—namely, the Dean and reviewing committee noted that Plaintiff favored certain students over others, was unresponsive to students outside of class, failed to meet teaching and advising expectations, did not contribute to the life of the University community beyond his paid position as Faculty Director, and produced scholarship of questionable quality. Plaintiff’s constructive discharge claim also failed, since he could not show that Elon’s decision to deny his tenure and promotion application was deliberately calculated to force his resignation, nor could he show that the conditions of his employment were so intolerable that a reasonable person would be compelled to resign. Last, the court dismissed Plaintiff’s retaliation claim because it was not first raised in his original complaint, nor was it included in his EEOC charge.

5/3/2018
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Retaliation; Employee Discipline

Daniel Morgan Graduate Sch. Of Nat’l Sec. v. Millis (E.D. Va. April 23, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion granting parties’ cross motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff Daniel Morgan Graduate School of National Security (DMGS), a private non-profit educational institution, alleged that Defendant Millis, the former Executive Director of DMGS, defamed DMGS, breach a fiduciary duty owed to DMGS, and breached a contract with DGMS following her resignation, which tendered in a letter that referenced DMGS’s alleged mishandling of alleged sexual abuse by a DMGS cofounder. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Mills provided her resignation letter to the Washington Post and to her subordinates, who were then encouraged by the Defendant to sue DMGS, in violation of DMGS’s Second Revised Bylaws. The court found no evidence that Mills had shared her resignation letter with a third party, and the appearance of Defendant’s letter as an exhibit in a separate lawsuit did not qualify as a “publication” because absolute immunity protected it as a statement in a judicial proceeding. Plaintiff’s breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract claims failed for lack of factual support. Addressing Defendant’s counter-claims, the court dismissed Defendant’s constructive discharge claim because Defendant voluntarily resigned from her position “in protest of the treatment of others, not due to her own alleged mistreatment.” Moreover, Defendant failed to identify a materially adverse employment action in support of her retaliation claim. Last, Defendant’s IIED claim failed because Plaintiff’s conduct was not sufficiently “extreme or outrageous” and did not result in severe emotional distress.
4/27/2018
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Retaliation

Santamaria v. Greenfield Community College (D. Mass. April 16, 2018)

Memorandum and Order denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.  Plaintiff alleged that Greenfield Community College (GCC) retaliated against him by terminating his employment 3 days after he filed a report of racial bias with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).  The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff intentionally filed the report with MCAD to insulate him from an otherwise non-discriminatory termination, which he knew was forthcoming.  The court allowed the matter to proceed, reasoning that the evidence GCC provided in support of its argument was not properly within the four corners of the complaint,  and that Defendant’s narrative of events could be subject to different interpretations after discovery. 

4/23/2018
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Retaliation

Roberts v. City Colleges of Chicago (Ill. App. April 16, 2018)

Opinion affirming-in-part and reversing-in-part the district court’s decision.  Plaintiff, the Director of Medical Programs at Malcom X College, alleged that Malcom X College unlawfully terminated him after he complained that an unqualified instructor had been hired to teach Phlebotomy.  On appeal, he argued that the district court erred in dismissing his retaliatory discharge and whistleblower claims.  Reversing the district court on a matter deemed to be one of first impression, the court reinstated Plaintiff’s retaliatory discharge claim, reasoning that the right to obtain an education from qualified instructors sufficiently alleged a clear mandate of public policy to support the retaliatory discharge claim. The court affirmed dismissal of Plaintiff’s claim under the state Whistleblower Act, because Plaintiff did not plead that he had refused a demand from his employer to engage in unlawful conduct.

4/19/2018
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Due Process; Retaliation; Constitutional Issues

Robinson v. Wichita State University (D. Ka. Feb. 13, 2018)

Memorandum and Opinion granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendants’ Motion on the Pleadings.  Plaintiff, former Vice President for Campus Life & University Relations at Wichita State University (WSU), alleged that WSU threatened his employment, demoted him, and terminated his employment in retaliation for initiating Title IX investigations.  Plaintiff also alleged that WSU deprived him of a liberty interest and defamed him when it published statements to third parties about his credentials, financial improprieties, and his termination.   The court allowed Plaintiff’s Title IX retaliation claim to proceed.  Although “[a]n employee cannot engage in protected activity while performing his job duties,” the court reasoned that Plaintiff went above and beyond the scope of his duties by “help[ing] other assert rights under Title IX.”  The court also found that Plaintiff sufficiently alleged that WSU deprived him of a liberty interest without due process, based on purportedly false statements that impugned Plaintiff’s reputation and good name, and allowed this count to proceed both against WSU and the WSU President in his individual capacity.  The court allowed some of Plaintiff’s defamation claims to proceed on similar grounds.

2/15/2018
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Retaliation; Faculty & Staff

Tenpas v. Riverside Community College District (Cal. App. 4d, Feb. 13, 2018)

Order and opinion affirming summary judgment for the Defendant.  Plaintiff, a tenured faculty librarian and former college administrator at Riverside Community College (RCC), alleged that RCC retaliated against her when it eliminated her administrative position at RCC pursuant to an administrative decision to restructure the deanship.  Specifically, she alleged that RCC’s decision to restructure the deanship was pretext for retaliatory actions taken to punish Plaintiff for taking medical leave, reporting a hostile work environment, and objecting to student hiring decisions.  In affirming judgment for the Defendant, the court found that Plaintiff was unable to show, beyond mere speculation, that RCC’s decision to restructure the deanship, was pretext for retaliatory animus, rather than a legitimate business decision  that the position was no longer essential or beneficial to the operation of RCC.

2/14/2018
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