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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Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; First Amendment & Free Speech; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Buchanan v. Alexander, et al. (M.D. La. Jan. 10, 2018)

Ruling granting Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and denying Plaintiff’s Cross-Motion. Plaintiff, a tenured professor at Louisiana State University (LSU), alleged that Defendants infringed upon her freedom of speech, academic freedom, and procedural and substantive due process rights when LSU’s Board of Supervisors terminated her employment after finding that her remarks about marriage and sex to students—made while training students for preschool to third-grade instruction—violated the University’s Policy Statements on Sexual Harassment. Plaintiff also brought a facial and as-applied constitutional challenge to LSU’s sexual harassment policy, arguing that it was overbroad and lacked an objective test for offensiveness. The court found that Plaintiff’s First Amendment claims failed either because they were time-barred or because qualified immunity protected Defendants’ objectively reasonable actions, notwithstanding the fact that Plaintiff failed to show that her remarks were protected speech or germane to a legitimate pedagogical purpose. The court further found that LSU’s sexual harassment policy was constitutional, both facially and as-applied to Plaintiff, since its language required conduct to be objectively severe and examples provided in the policy illustrated that conduct must be sufficiently severe and pervasive. Last, the court found that Plaintiff was afforded procedural and substantive due process to satisfy constitutional standards leading up to her termination. 

Title IX; Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Chambers v. Tennessee Board of Regents, Southwest Tennessee Community College (W.D. Tenn. July 28, 2017)

Order denying Plaintiff’s Motion to Amend Complaint and granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. A female student claimed that Southwest Tennessee Community College (STCC) failed to conduct an adequate investigation and take appropriate remedial action in response to her complaints that a male employee sexually assaulted her and created an environment conducive to sexual misconduct. According to the Complaint, however, STCC conducted an initial investigation, referred Plaintiff to counseling, and transferred the male employee to another department. The fact that Plaintiff preferred that the male employee be terminated rather than transferred was not sufficient to support a Title IX claim. The Tennessee Board of Regents, STCC, and the individual Defendants in their official capacities were immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Plaintiff’s substantive and procedural due process claims against all the individual Defendants--except the alleged perpetrator in his unofficial capacity--were dismissed for failure to identify a violation of a clearly established right. Finally, the alleged perpetrator’s conduct, though perhaps “deplorable,” was not sufficient to establish a constitutional claim. 

Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Faculty & Staff

Irrera v. Humpherys (2d Cir. June 15, 2017)

Opinion and Order affirming-in-part and vacating-in-part the district court’s order. A graduate piano student at the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester alleged that the Chair of the Piano Department made unwanted sexual advances toward him and threatened to “make his life a living hell” if he reported the misconduct. He filed a retaliation claim against the Chair and the University, claiming that the Chair gave negative references to potential employers and prevented him from finding employment after graduation, all because Plaintiff rejected the Chair’s advances. Concluding that his claim was grounded in speculation, the district court dismissed Plaintiff’s suit. The Second Circuit reversed, finding that, although it was “not impossible that all 28 schools to which he applied for open teaching positions deemed his credentials insufficient to warrant an interview, it is plausible that these schools received negative references from the chairman.” Moreover, because colleges and employers rarely disclose the content of the references they receive, the absence of direct evidence regarding the alleged negative references was reasonable at this stage in the litigation. 

Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Students; Title IX; Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence

Armstrong v. James Madison University (W.D. Va. June 1, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion adopting the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation and dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint. James Madison University (JMU) revoked Plaintiff’s alumni membership to the recreation center in response to a sexual harassment complaint.  Plaintiff alleged that JMU violated several federal and state laws, including Title IX, by revoking his gym membership. The magistrate judge recommended that all claims brought under Section 1983 and state law against JMU, along with all claims seeking monetary damages against the other defendants in their official capacities, be dismissed with prejudice because the claims are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. Additionally, the magistrate judge recommended dismissal of Plaintiff’s Title IX claims against the individual defendants because Title IX does not provide a cause of action against individuals.  Finally, the magistrate judge recommended dismissal of his remaining claims for failure to state a claim. The district court agreed, finding Plaintiff’s objections to the magistrate’s ruling to be “entirely without merit.”

Sexual Misconduct – Employment

Doe v. Alger (W.D. Va. Apr. 25, 2017)

This was the remedies phase of an action in which the court previously awarded summary judgment to Plaintiff Doe for due process violations that occurred during the appeals phase of a sexual misconduct proceeding.  The parties jointly agreed to several remedies but disagreed as to others, three of which were addressed in the decision:  whether James Madison University (JMU) could subject Plaintiff to a new appellate proceeding; whether JMU must destroy certain records relating to the charge against Plaintiff; and whether JMU should be enjoined from making any notations on Plaintiff's transcript once the proceeding concluded.  Applying the standard remedy for due process violations (that is, allowing new proceedings with constitutionally-adequate process), and recognizing the interests of the university in adjudicating sexual misconduct cases, the court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that, if he elects to re-enroll at JMU, JMU not be permitted to conduct another appeal board hearing on the misconduct charge against him. Relying on its "broad equitable power to direct a party to take an action that would otherwise be prohibited by state law," the Court ordered JMU to destroy certain records relating to the charge against Plaintiff, despite JMU's argument that doing so would violate State law.  Finally, the court enjoined JMU from making any notation on Plaintiff's transcript, regardless of the outcome of the pending appellate proceeding, because the State law mandating such notations went into effect after the initial misconduct case was decided.  The court reasoned, "[H]ad Doe received a constitutionally adequate appeal process, even if he had been found responsible for misconduct that would otherwise require a notation, no notation would have been [required]."
Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence

Malaivanh v. Humphreys College (E.D. Cal. Apr. 11, 2017)

Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s federal claims and granting Plaintiff leave to amend. Plaintiff was a student at Humphreys College who served as an assistant to a consultant from Defendant JDS Consultation, Inc., for school credit. She filed a Title VII suit against the College, the consultant, and JDS Consultation, alleging that the consultant sexually harassed and assaulted her, and that the College retaliated against her after she complained of the consultant’s conduct. Her suit also included state law negligence claims. The court found that Plaintiff failed to allege that the consultant or JDS Consultation met Title VII’s definition of “employer,” and thus dismissed Plaintiff’s federal claims against them. The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s federal claims against the College after concluding that Plaintiff’s Complaint contained no allegations that would support a joint employer relationship between the College and JDS Consultation, and therefore that the College was not an appropriate defendant to a Title VII claim based on the consultant’s alleged conduct.  

Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Age Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Traster v. Ohio Northern University (6th Cir. Apr. 5, 2017)

Opinion and Order affirming the district court’s judgement in favor of Ohio Northern University. Ohio Northern officials received complaints from a female student and a female employee alleging that Plaintiff, then a professor, had sexually harassed them and, in the employee's case, had assaulted her. The University promptly suspended Plaintiff without pay and ultimately approved his termination after a faculty committee found him in violation of the University’s sexual harassment policy. Plaintiff filed suit alleging, among other things, that the University breached his employment contract by suspending and terminating him and that, by suspending him without pay, it had also discriminated against him based on his age. The district court granted summary judgment to Ohio Northern on Plaintiff’s age discrimination claim and, after considering the merits of his contract claims, ruled in favor of Ohio Northern. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed both judgments. It also addressed two further issues raised by Plaintiff and ruled that 1) even if the district court had made an error by deciding the substantive issue of Plaintiff’s termination before allowing him to brief and argue that issue, the error would have ultimately been harmless, and 2) the district court properly declined to address Plaintiff’s claim for back pay because he failed to raise the claim in his pleadings.

Title IX; Sexual Misconduct – Employment; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence

Naumov v. McDaniel College, Inc. (D. Md. Mar. 31, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion granting in part and denying in part McDaniel College’s Motion for Summary Judgment. A professor at McDaniel informed College officials that she had been forced to leave her tenured position due to ongoing harassment and stalking by Plaintiff, a fellow tenured professor. Because the complainant wished to remain anonymous, the College’s provost filed a Title IX complaint on her behalf. After several hearings and an appeal, the College determined that Plaintiff was responsible for harassment and creating a hostile environment, and terminated his employment. Plaintiff filed suit, alleging that the College created an environment in which male faculty accused of sexual harassment are “virtually assured” of being found responsible, and that the provost targeted him because of her “strong feminist views” and bias against male faculty. Since Plaintiff provided no factual evidence to support these claims, the Court dismissed them. However, the Court allowed Plaintiff’s claim that McDaniel violated its Title IX policy and employee handbook to proceed based on a breach-of-contract theory because the policy was unclear on whether the provost could file a Title IX complaint on behalf of an anonymous faculty member.