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 Tenure
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Tenure; Faculty & Staff

Vengalattore v. Cornell University (N.Y. App. Div. May 10, 2018)

Memorandum and Order reversing the judgment of the Supreme Court. Plaintiff, an associate professor at Cornell University, sought to annul the University’s denial of his promotion and tenure application pursuant to Article 78 of New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that the University failed to adhere to its rules and procedures in considering his tenure application and took insufficient corrective actions to cure an instance in which a graduate student complaint was improperly brought to the attention of the tenure review committee. The court found that the University substantially complied with its rules and procedures and that the Provost’s final decision was based on a redacted record that did not include the graduate student complaint.  Moreover, the University did not deny Plaintiff tenure arbitrarily, capriciously, or in bad faith since the Provost, shielded from the graduate student’s complaint,  based the final tenure denial on evidence of unsatisfactory teaching and laboratory management.

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.

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

Monroe v. Columbia College of Chicago and Sheridan (N.D. Ill. April 10, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Counts I, II, and III. Plaintiff, a former tenure-track assistant professor at Columbia College of Chicago (CCC), alleged that CCC racially discriminated against him by denying him tenure and subjected him to a hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of Title VII and section 1981. CCC contended that Plaintiff’s claims were time-barred because Plaintiff filed his EEOC charge 326 days after the Provost denied him tenure on March 18, 2013, while Plaintiff argued that CCC’s final decision to deny him tenure occurred on August 12, 2013, when the President of the University affirmed the Provost’s decision through CCC’s grievance process. Consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Delaware State College v. Ricks and the language of CCC’s policy, the court held that Plaintiffs’ claims under Title VII were time-barred, finding that the limitations period began to run when the Provost made the final tenure decision. The court rejected Plaintiff’s claims of equitable tolling and equitable estoppel and declined to allow his claims to proceed under the continuing violation doctrine, since the Complaint did not identify any discrete acts occurring within limitations period. Finally, the conduct Plaintiff alleged failed to plausibly support a hostile work environment claim, and Plaintiff’s section 1981 claim failed because the actions he alleged, such as “hyper-surveillance of his activities” and refusals to assign him administrative responsibilities, did not occur within the four-year time period preceding the filing of his complaint.

Tenure; Faculty & Staff

Safit v. Pace University (N.Y. App. Div. March 13, 2018)

Order denying Appellant’s Petition and dismissing the case. Appellant was denied tenure and promotion at Pace University and sought to challenge the University’s determination. The court found that the University’s decision was not arbitrary or capricious, particularly because no constitutional violations of due process occurred and the University, in response to Appellant’s allegations, restarted its review process to cure the alleged procedural issues. The court further found sufficient evidence to support the University’s determination.

Equal Protection; Constitutional Issues; Tenure; Faculty & Staff; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Omachonu v. Shields, et al. (W.D. Wis. March 5, 2018)

Opinion and Order granting Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, an African American woman of Nigerian national origin who taught in a tenure-track position at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, alleged under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that Defendants violated her rights under the equal protection clause when they denied her tenure for purportedly discriminatory reasons. The court found that Plaintiff failed to show that her supervisors or any tenure decisionmakers harbored discriminatory animus. The court rejected Plaintiff’s “cat’s paw” theory of liability since Defendant Bunte, who voiced opposition to Plaintiff’s retention two years before her tenure review, was not personally involved in the Retention & Tenure Committee’s decision to deny Plaintiff tenure. Even if Defendant Bunte’s voiced opposition was motivated by discriminatory animus, which the evidence did not support, the court reasoned that Defendant Chancellor Shields’s independent review of Plaintiff’s tenure file broke any causal link that suggested discriminatory intent. Last, the court held that Plaintiff’s argument for pretext based on Defendants’ reliance on potentially racially-biased student evaluations was unsupported by case law, particularly because Defendants considered other factors beyond Plaintiff’s low student evaluations.

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

Weeks v. Texas A&M Univ. (S.D. Tex. Feb. 21, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a male assistant professor at Texas A&M University—Galveston, alleged that Defendant Texas A&M University System discriminated against him on account of his gender, created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against him in violation of Title VII based on purported mistreatment he experienced in his tenure and promotion review process, in employment decisions, and in A&M’s decision to ultimately terminate him. The court found that Defendant Texas A&M University System was not Plaintiff’s “employer” within the statutory meaning of Title VII because Texas A&M University—Galveston, a statutorily different entity than Defendant, had the right to control Plaintiff’s conduct, which included hiring, firing, and setting his work schedule. After finding that Plaintiff’s amendment to add Texas &&M Galveston as a party related back to his original complaint and therefore was timely, the court denied each of Plaintiff’s Title VII claims. Specifically, Plaintiff’s gender discrimination and retaliation claims failed because he could not rebut as pretext Galveston’s concerns about the accuracy and veracity of his professional accomplishments, while Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim lacked evidence in support of his conclusory statements. 

Tenure; Due Process; Faculty & Staff; Constitutional Issues

Hernandez v. The University of Texas System (5th Cir. Jan. 3, 2018)

Per curiam Opinion affirming the district court’s award of judgment to the Defendants.  Plaintiff, an assistant professor with tenure at the University of Texas Pan American (UTPA), was terminated from her position when UTPA merged with another Texas institution to form the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV).  Plaintiff alleged that her dismissal from UTPA and UTRGV’s subsequent failure to hire her deprived her of a constitutionally protected property interest without due process.  Adopting the Court’s reasoning in Edionwe v. Bailey, another wrongful termination suit arising as a result of the institutional merger, the Court concluded that Plaintiff neither had a constitutionally protected interest in employment nor tenure, at UTRGV or in the UT System at large, and that she received all process that was due with respect to the termination of her employment at UTPA.

Employee Discipline; Tenure; Age Discrimination; Due Process; Faculty & Staff; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Constitutional Issues

Heineke v. Santa Clara University, et al. (N.D. Cal. Dec. 5, 2017)

Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a seventy-nine year old tenured professor at Santa Clara University (SCU), a private institution, brought a section 1983 claim for due process violations and a claim of age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) against SCU after he was dismissed following an SCU determination that Plaintiff violated the institution’s Gender-Based Discrimination and Sexual Misconduct Policy. Plaintiff also brought claims against a former student and SCU for wrongful termination, breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and defamation. The court found that Plaintiff did not sufficiently plead state action to support his section 1983 claim and further, was unpersuaded by Plaintiff’s argument that SCU’s compliance with Title IX obligations transformed the private institution into a state actor. Additionally, the court found that Plaintiff did not plead sufficient facts to support his age discrimination claim, primarily because his conclusory allegations were unsupported by evidence showing that he was fired because of his age or that SCU sought to replace him with someone younger. The court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s remaining state law claims.