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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.

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Sex Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Retaliation; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Kirby v. State of North Carolina (E.D.N.C. Feb. 9, 2018)

Order granting Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, whose enrollment in North Carolina State University (NCSU)’s College of Veterinary Medicine was terminated in 1994 and who now proceeds pro se, brought claims against Defendant for deprivation of due process; violations of Title IX, specifically sex discrimination, continuing patterns or practice of discrimination by the state, and retaliation; and breach of contract based on allegations that NCSU unlawfully changed her grades from passing to failing. Plaintiff sought to bypass Title IX’s three-year statute of limitations by asserting that her claims accrued in 2017, upon discovery of tuition overpayments to NCSU by the U.S. Department of Education. Rejecting Plaintiff’s theory, the court found that Plaintiff’s claims based on her 1994 termination were either time-bared or precluded by a prior 2013 action against NCSU, which was dismissed for failure to state a claim. Last, the court dismissed Plaintiff’s breach of contract and deprivation of due process claims because they failed to state a plausible claims for relief. 

2/21/2018
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Retaliation; Sex Discrimination; Race and National Origin Discrimination; First Amendment & Free Speech; Equal Protection; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Constitutional Issues

Smith v. Mississippi State University, et al. (N.D. Miss. Feb. 16, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, an African-American woman who worked for Mississippi State University (MSU) as a Family Consumer Science Extension Agent, brought against MSU and Individual Defendants in their official and individual capacities a Title VII claim for retaliation and section 1983 claims for 1) sex discrimination, 2) race discrimination, 3) violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendment, and 4) conspiracy. The court found that Plaintiff could not bring section 1983 claims against MSU because it was not a “person” within the meaning of the statute, while Eleventh Amendment immunity protected Individual Defendants in their official capacity. Dismissing Plaintiff’s individual capacity claims under section 1983—which included conspiracy, failure to investigate sexual harassment, First Amendment retaliation, and a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause—the court found that Plaintiff either failed to allege requisite facts to establish each claim or Individual Defendants were protected by qualified immunity. Last, Plaintiff’s Title VII claim failed because Individual Defendants were employees and not employers within the meaning of the statue. 

2/20/2018
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Accessible Facilities; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Twede, et al. v. University of Washington (W.D. Wash. Feb. 13, 2018)

Order granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiffs—who are “individuals with mobility impairment disabilities” and who each regularly travel to UW for class, medical appointments, and social engagements—alleged that eighty-six of the University of Washington (UW)’s parking lots and their “accessible routes” violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act (RA), and the Washington Law Against Discrimination because they purportedly are not in compliance with 1991 and 2010 ADA standards. As a preliminary matter, the court found that Plaintiffs did not have standing to pursue claims for fifty-one of the parking lots because they either did not attempt to visit them or did not show that their knowledge of barriers deterred any interest they had in visiting them. Consistent with Title II of the ADA—which requires that public entities provide “meaningful access” to services, programs, or activities held in facilities constructed before January 26, 1992— the court found that parking lots built before January 26, 1992 were merely incidental to the services UW provided and they themselves did not constitute a “service, program, or activity” that required UW to provide meaningful access. However, because facilities built or modified after January 26, 1992 are subject to more specific requirements, the court allowed Plaintiff’s claims regarding parking lots built after January 26, 1992 to proceed to discovery. Last, the court dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims with respect to “accessible routes, building entrances, payment kiosks, ramps, curb ramps, paths of travel, and signage barriers” because these allegations as stated in the Complaint were not sufficient to put UW on notice about what noncompliant features existed and where they were located.

2/16/2018
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Retaliation; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Phillips v. Prince George’s Community College, et al. (D. Md. Feb. 12, 2018)

Memorandum and Opinion granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss with prejudice.  Plaintiff, an Associate Professor at Prince George’s County Community College (PGCC), alleged that PGCC created a racially hostile environment and retaliated against him when the Department Chair accused him of unprofessional conduct, gave him a difficult teaching schedule, put him on a Performance Improvement Plan, and allegedly corralled employees to file complaints against him. The court dismissed Plaintiff’s race discrimination claims because Plaintiff neglected to put Defendants on notice of this claim in the charge filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The court dismissed Plaintiff’s retaliation claims either because he failed to identify an adverse employment action or neglected to include the dates of the purported retaliatory actions in the Complaint.  According to the court, neither putting an employee on a performance improvement plan nor requiring an employee to attend a conference on a holiday weekend amounted to adverse employment actions.  While corralling employees to file complaints against Plaintiff would constitute an adverse employment action, and while changing an employee’s work schedule could, under special circumstances, be deemed to be an adverse employment action, Plaintiff did not specify the dates of the actions in the Complaint.  Although this omission normally would have been curable, the court dismissed the action with prejudice because Defendants had raised the pleading deficiencies in a pre-motion conference, and Plaintiff did not cure them.

2/14/2018
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Sex Discrimination; Faculty & Staff; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Woesler v. Utah Valley University (10th Circuit, Feb. 13, 2018)

Order and Judgment affirming summary judgment for the Defendant.  Plaintiff, a Caucasian male of German descent who had a one-year tenure-track position as coordinator of the Chinese Studies program at Utah Valley University (UVU), alleged that UVU discriminated against him and subjected him to a hostile environment based on race, national origin, and gender, and retaliated against him when UVU declined to award him tenure.  Though Plaintiff produced evidence that his colleagues had made hostile comments, the court concluded that “isolated incidents,” like the ones Plaintiff identified, did not amount to a hostile environment under Title VII.  The court also affirmed judgment for the Defendant on Plaintiff’s disparate treatment claims because the Plaintiff provided no evidence that UVU treated him differently from any similarly situated employee.  Finally, the court affirmed judgment for the Defendant on the issue of retaliation, since Plaintiff offered no evidence suggesting that retaliatory animus was the “but-for” cause of UVU’s decision not to award him tenure. 

2/14/2018
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Sex Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity; Athletics Operations; Athletics & Sports

United States v. N.M. State Univ. and N.M. State Univ. Bd. of Regents (D.N.M. Feb. 6, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Order denying Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. The United States brought a claim of pay discrimination under Title VII against Defendants after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found reasonable cause to believe that New Mexico State University (NMSU) engaged in wage discrimination against a female NMSU assistant coach, Meaghan Harkins. The court concluded that Plaintiff had established a prima facie case of discrimination based on evidence that two male comparators were paid more despite having duties and responsibilities that were similar to, or at least as demanding as, the female NMSU assistant coach. As to pretext, the court found that disputed facts about coaches’ duties and qualifications would need to be resolved at trial. 

2/12/2018
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Retaliation; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Herron-Williams v. Alabama State University (M.D. Ala. Feb. 6, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, an African-American tenured professor at Alabama State University (ASU), alleged under Title VII that Defendant discriminated against her based on race and gender, and retaliated against her based on 1) an email she sent to ASU’s President and 2) a charge she filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In support of her discrimination claims, Plaintiff points to the denial of her request for equipment while serving as supervisor of the Office of Minority and International Affairs (OMIA), her removal from the OMIA supervisor position, her removal as faculty athletic representative (FAR), and a salary reduction. The court found that Plaintiff did not plead a prima facie case of race or gender discrimination since she could not show that she was treated less favorably than a similarly-situated employee outside of her protected class. The court further concluded that Plaintiff could not prove causation or pretext for her retaliation claim relating to the email she sent ASU’s President. Although Plaintiff stated in the email that she believed she had been subjected to unlawful discrimination, the court deemed that belief to be objectively unreasonable, and as such, the email did not constitute a “protected activity” for purposes of a retaliation analysis. The court also awarded judgment to the Defendant on Plaintiff’s second retaliation claim—where she alleged her salary was cut by $20,000 after filing an EEOC charge—since the temporal proximity between the protected activity and adverse employment action was too attenuated, spanning two months at its shortest and six months at its longest. 

2/12/2018
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Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Ahmed v. Regents of the University of California, et al. (S.D. Cal. Feb. 7, 2018)

Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a former Indian employee of the University of California San Diego (UCSD) who suffers from “a rare form of leprosy” and who proceeds pro se, claimed that Defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and Title VII when they purportedly failed to engage in a timely good-faith interactive process in response to his request for an accommodation; retaliated against him based on his need for an accommodation; conspired to deprive him of workers’ compensation, disability benefits, and wages; and discriminated against him based on race, ethnicity, and country of origin. Eleventh Amendment immunity and sovereign immunity precluded Plaintiff’s ADA claims against the Board of Regents, while claims against Individual Defendants were dismissed because the ADA does not allow for claims of personal liability. The court further found that Plaintiff’s RICO claim against the Board failed as a matter of law because as a government entity, the Board could not form the requisite element of “malicious intent.” The RICO claim against Individual Defendants was also dismissed because Plaintiff failed to allege injury to property and any particularity as to “who did what, when, where, and how.” Last, Plaintiff’s Title VII claims failed because he could not show that his termination was connected to unlawful discrimination by the Board, while claims against Individual Defendants were dismissed because individuals are not Plaintiff’s employer.

2/12/2018
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