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: Constitutional Issues
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Sex Discrimination; Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation Discrimination; Equal Protection; Constitutional Issues

Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board (E.D. Va. May 22, 2018)

Order denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a transgender man who was a former student in the Gloucester County School District, alleged that the Gloucester County School Board (GCSB) violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by enacting a policy that required students to use restroom and locker room facilities according to their biological sex. The court held that Plaintiff’s claim of discrimination on the basis of his transgender status constituted a per se actionable claim of sex discrimination under Title IX. Similar to the logic applied in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the court concluded that the Plaintiff plead an actionable Title IX claim by alleging that the policy unlawfully subjected students to differential treatment based on gender stereotyping. Addressing Plaintiff’s Equal Protection claim, the court found intermediate scrutiny appropriate because GCSB’s policy relied on sex stereotypes and therefore applied sex-based classifications. Moreover, the court held that transgendered individuals constituted a quasi-suspect class because 1) they have been historically subjected to discrimination based on their gender identity, 2) their gender status has little to no bearing on their ability to contribute to society, 3) their status is immutable, and 4) they constitute a minority demographic in society with little political power. Applying intermediate scrutiny, the court concluded that Plaintiff plead sufficient facts to allege that GCSB’s policy was not substantially related to achieving its governmental objective of protecting other students’ privacy rights. 
Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Liu v. Regents of the University of California, et al. (9th Cir. May 21, 2018)

Unpublished Memorandum affirming summary judgment for the Defendants. Plaintiff, who proceeds pro se, alleged several federal and state law claims against the University of California (UC) Berkeley based on her attempts to be rehired from 2009 to 2011, and again from 2013-2015 after UC laid her off. The court found that Plaintiff’s Title VII discrimination and defamation claims failed because the statute of limitations had expired, while Plaintiff’s Title VII retaliation and due process claims failed either because Plaintiff neglected to exhaust administrative remedies or because she did not show a genuine dispute of material fact. Plaintiff further failed to establish a prima facie case in support of her retaliation claim under California law. Last, the court dismissed Plaintiff’s “breach of constitutional rights” claim as derivative of her other claims.

Retaliation; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Udeigwe v. Texas Tech University, et al. (5th Cir. May 11, 2018)

Per Curiam Opinion affirming-in-part and dismissing-in-part the district court’s order to dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint. Plaintiff, a black male professor at Texas Tech University (TTU) who proceeds pro se, alleged that his non-reappointment to a tenure-track faculty position following a negative mid-tenure evaluation constituted discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based on race in violation of Title VII; deprived him of procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment; deprived him of an “equal right to work and/or” resulted in “retaliation due to protected speech because of his race”; and resulted in tortious interference with his employment contract under state law. The court found that Plaintiff’s Title VII claims failed because he did not timely appeal the decision of the district court, while his “equal right to work” claim failed because it lacked a constitutional basis. Noting that Texas did not recognize a property right in continued employment or the promise of tenure, the court dismissed Plaintiff’s procedural due process claim for lack of a recognized property or liberty interest. Acknowledging that “a party cannot tortuously interfere with its own contract,” the court dismissed Plaintiff’s tortious interference claim, since he was not able to show that Defendants “acted in a fashion so contrary to the corporation’s best interests that [their] actions could only have been motivated by personal interests.”  Last, the court found no allegations to support a First Amendment retaliation claim. 

Title IX; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; First Amendment & Free Speech; Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration; Practice of Higher Education Law; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Hyman v. Cornell Univ. (2nd Cir., May 9, 2018)

Summary Order affirming the judgment of the district court.  Hyman (Plaintiff) sued Cornell University and seventeen other University employees (Defendants) alleging First Amendment and Title IX violations when her report of sexual harassment against one of the Defendants was dismissed and when she was sanctioned by the school for harassing him.  Plaintiff’s suit was dismissed by the district court as barred by res judicata because her claims relied on the same operative facts as a previous suit she had filed against the University and one of the named Defendants.  Plaintiff appealed both the dismissal and denial of reconsideration by the district court.  Plaintiff attempted to overcome res judicata by pointing to additional allegations in the suit that post-date her first suit and by naming sixteen additional defendants in the suit that were not named in the first.  The court found that the addition of new facts were from substantially the same transaction or occurrence and even though they post-date the first claim, do not amount to a new claim.  In addition, citing the principle of privity, the court found that the naming of sixteen additional defendants did not overcome claim preclusion because all the named defendants are “[University] professors and administrators whose ‘interests were adequately represented’ by [the University] in the first suit.”  The court found no error in the district court’s denial of reconsideration.

First Amendment & Free Speech; Title IX; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Sex Discrimination; Due Process; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Constitutional Issues

Doe v. Distefano (D. Colo. May 7, 2018)

Order granting in part and denying in part Defendant’s motion to dismiss.  Plaintiff, a male student at the University of Colorado, Boulder (University), sued after he was expelled for sexually assaulting two female students, claiming that the University’s investigation and its outcome violated Title IX because both were “motivated by pervasive anti-male bias amounting to sex discrimination.” Plaintiff also claimed a procedural due process violation and requested the Court order Defendant to purge an adverse notation from his transcript.  The court granted Defendants’ motion on the portion of Plaintiff’s claim based on the assertion that “[a] person has a protected liberty interest in his good name, reputation, honor and integrity” because Plaintiff failed to contest Defendant’s counterarguments in his reply and because “[h]arm to reputation alone is not the sort of harm that supports a procedural due process claim…[under] the so-called ‘stigma plus’ test.” However, the court denied the motion as to the portion of Plaintiff’s claim based on a property interest because Defendant failed to engage the question raised by Plaintiff “whether this context—wherein a plaintiff is accused of conduct which may form the basis for criminal prosecution—changes the Mathews v. Eldridge [due process] calculus in a manner requiring more than minimal notice and an opportunity to respond” and because “Plaintiff’s accusations, taken together, create a plausible inference of bias against those accused of sexual misconduct.” 

Equal Protection; Disability Discrimination; Age Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; First Amendment & Free Speech; Constitutional Issues

Committe v. Yen, et al. (N.D. N.Y. May 7, 2018)

Memorandum Decision and Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Pro se Plaintiff, a sixty-six year old man with physical disabilities, alleged under the equal protection clause pursuant to a section 1983 claim that State University of New York (SUNY) discriminated against him based on age and disability when it failed to hire him for a tenure-track position and visiting assistant professor position. Plaintiff further alleged that SUNY violated his “right to academic freedom under the due process clause” by requiring him to participate in a teaching presentation as part of his interview. The court dismissed Plaintiff’s disability discrimination claim because disability is not a protected class under the equal protection clause. The court further dismissed Plaintiff’s age discrimination claim because he failed to allege facts that supported an inference of age discrimination and failed to rebut Defendants’ legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for hiring other younger applicants—namely, that Plaintiff received negative evaluations on his teaching presentation. Plaintiff’s academic freedom claim was dismissed because it was unclear to the court how SUNY’s interview requirement violated any right to academic freedom under First Amendment jurisprudence.

Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Retaliation; Race and National Origin Discrimination; First Amendment & Free Speech; Constitutional Issues; Faculty & Staff

Patra and Vaz v. Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, et al. (M.D. Pa. May 8, 2018)

Order granting Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on all counts. After their teaching contracts at Bloomsburg University were not renewed, Plaintiffs sued, citing eleven allegations, including retaliation and race, national origin, and religious discrimination. The court concluded that Plaintiffs’ brief “utterly fail[ed] to explain” why the Court should not grant summary judgment to the Defendants on all claims. As examples, the court highlighted Plaintiffs’ failure to: (i) explain how their termination was “under circumstances that raise an inference of discriminatory action” under Title VII, (ii) explain what “adverse employment actions” were taken by Defendants; and (iii) provide evidence that they engaged in constitutionally-protected speech to support their First Amendment retaliation claims.

Equal Protection; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Rombough v. The University of Texas System, et al. (5th Cir. May 4, 2018)

Per Curiam Opinion affirming Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a tenured professor 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 and deprived her of equal protection under the law. 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 at UTRGV, nor were her due process rights violated when her employment ended with UTPA. The court further found that UTRGV’s policy of first hiring faculty members without a disciplinary history or poor performance reviews was rationally related to the State’s legitimate interest in promoting quality public education. Last, the court held that the Texas legislation that abolished UTPA was not unconstitutionally vague because it simply provided the State “light guidance” in exercising its discretion in hiring decisions.