Recent Decisions - UNIVERSITIES AND OTHER INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING

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Constitutional Claims and Civil Rights

Former West Point cadet sued Army Secretary alleging disenrollment and order to enlist violated Administrative Procedure Act (APA), Due Process and Establishment Clauses, and unjustly enriched Army. After a cadet committed a series of violations of West Point's honor code, he was required to enlist for active duty in two years. He also alleged that he was required to recite a religious prayer in violation of the Establishment Clause. The Secretary moved for summary judgment. Held: For the Secretary in part and for the cadet in part. The Secretary's decision was neither arbitrary nor capricious, the cadet received due process, and the court lacked jurisdiction on the unjust enrichment claim. However, summary judgment on the Establishment Clause claim was improper because a material issue existed as to whether the prayer was compelled. Spadone v. McHugh, 864 F. Supp. 2d 181 (D.D.C. 2012).

University appealed denial of motion to dismiss in claim where tenured professors alleged age discrimination. The professors claimed that the university engaged in practices resulting in systematic discrimination against older employees, and that when the professors objected, the university terminated their employment. Held: For the professors. The age discrimination claims related to nonacademic matters, and could therefore proceed in court. Wander v. St. John's U., 953 N.Y.S.2d 68 (App. Div. 2d Dept. 2012).

African-American male student sued college, alleging race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VI and sex discrimination in violation of Title VIl. While appealing a negative grade on the basis of race discrimination, a student was involved in a physical altercation with another student. In light of this incident and two previous physical altercations, the student was terminated from his work-study and suspended from college. He claimed these sanctions were racially and sexually discriminatory, as well as retaliatory. Held: For the college. The student was not meeting his work-study employer's reasonable expectations or the college's legitimate education expectations, and he failed to show that similarly situated employees or students outside of his protected class were treated differently. Further, he failed to demonstrate that the college would not have taken adverse action but for his filing complaints of race discrimination. Sawyer v. Columbia College, 864 F. Supp. 2d 709 (N. D. 111. 2012).

Employee appealed judgment in favor of university where employee alleged gender discrimination. A university janitor alleged that she was fired because of her gender, citing harsh comments from her employer as the basis for her claim. Held: For the university. The dismissal of the claim was sustained because the allegations were insufficient to show an apparent good faith belief that the employee was subject to gender discrimination. Therefore, there was no claim upon which relief could be granted. Drumm v. SUNY Geneseo College, 486 Fed. Appx. 912 (2nd Cir. 2012)(unpublished).

Torts

Former student sued university and Vice President of Student Affairs, alleging creation and maintenance of hostile educational environment, among other claims. A white female freshman at the university took a temporary leave of absence after being raped at a fraternity party by an African- American man unaffiliated with the university. She alleged that on her return, the university created a hostile environment for her because of her rape. After she emailed a dean at the dean's request that she intended to temporarily transfer elsewhere, the university stated that her email functioned as a voluntary request to withdraw, forfeiting her eligibility for readmission. The student sued in state court and the university removed the case to federal court while moving to dismiss all claims. Held: For the university in part and for the student in part. Claims against the vice president were barred by the statute of limitations, but the student's remaining claims were sufficient to survive the university's motion to dismiss. …