Recent Decisions - UNIVERSITIES AND OTHER INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING
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).
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. Rouse v. Duke U., 869 F. Supp. 2d 674 (M.D.N.C. 2012).
Student dance team member appealed summary judgment of claim for personal injury damages in favor of college after student suffered head injury during rehearsal. Under the supervision and direction of the team instructor, a student fell while practicing a lift with another team member. She alleged that the instructor knew the lift was being done incorrectly and had a duty of care to help prevent the injury. The trial court granted summary judgment on the ground that there was no special relationship between the student and the instructor to create a duty of care on the instructor's part. Held: For the student. A special relationship is created when a teacher or coach, within the scope of the academic enterprise, gives a directive to a student. Every indicator of a special relationship was present between the student and the instructor, imposing on the instructor a duty of care. Cope v. Utah Valley St. College, 290 P.3d 314 (Utah App. 2012).
Law graduates sued law school for fraud in misrepresenting graduates' employment prospects. Graduates relied on the school's representations that eighty percent of its graduates were employed within nine months of graduation and earned a median salary of fifty thousand dollars. These rates included temporary and part-time employment and employment for which a J.D. degree is not required. Held: For the law school. The fraud statute applies to goods, property, or service primarily for personal, family, or household purposes. The law graduates purchased a legal education for business purposes. The law school's information was not objectively false. The law graduates unreasonably relied on statistics that were inherently untrustworthy. Means to evaluate the truthfulness of the representation were available. MacDonald v. Thomas M. Cooley L. Sch., 880 F. Supp. 2d 785 (W.D. Mich. 2012).
Faculty and Administration
Former tenured professor appealed summary judgment in favor of university alleging breach of employment contract. The professor was terminated after repeated inappropriate behavior toward female staff members and students. He argued that his conduct was not actionable as harassment, and that even if it was, the university did not follow proper procedures for his dismissal. Held: For the university. The Faculty Manual, as incorporated into the professor's employment contract, stated that harassment of any kind was unacceptable. Clear and convincing evidence in the record supported the university's findings of harassment by the professor. The university complied with the provisions of the professor's employment contract. Haegert v. U. of Evansville, 977 N.E.2d 924 (In. 2012).
Student Conduct and Discipline
University sought dismissal of former student's case alleging breach of contract and implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The student was dismissed from a Physician Assistant degree program and a subcommittee was organized to hear the student's appeal. The subcommittee did not speak to anyone the student had asked to be interviewed, and its report contained multiple factual errors about the student's academic record. Held: For the student. The student successfully raised serious questions as to whether her dismissal from the program was arbitrary and capricious and also met the standard for alleging breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Paulin v. George Washington U. Sch. of Med. and Health Sci., 878 F. Supp. 2d 241 (D.D.C. 2012).
Student appealed judgment in favor of university, alleging university had breached its contract by refusing to certify student's degree. A university refused to certify a student as qualified for an MBA degree after learning that the student was convicted of violating federal securities laws by providing material, non-public information in his capacity as a certified public accountant to a securities trader. Held: For the university. The university was within its contractual rights to discipline the student for his off -campus dishonesty because it was reasonable for the university to believe the student was not fit to receive an MBA degree. Furthermore, the university did not act arbitrarily or irrationally in allowing the business school faculty to enforce its clear code of conduct. Rosenthal v. New York U., 482 Fed. Appx. 609 (2nd Cir. 2012) (unpublished).
Students with Disabilities
Student sought review of summary judgment in favor of college, alleging college violated Human Rights Act. A college dismissed a student with a hearing deficit from its nursing program, arguing that the student's hearing deficit would substantially limit her ability to safely perform some aspects of the program. Held: Remanded to the district court. The college failed to prove that the student would pose a direct safety threat because it offered nothing more than its subjective belief that the use of an interpreter posed a safety threat. However, the case was remanded to determine whether the student could complete the program with reasonable accommodations. Wells v. Lester E. Cox Med. Ctrs., 379 S.W.3d 919 (Mo. App. 2012).
Student Loans and Litigation
Former student appealed court order enforcing settlement agreement between former student and university. A former student, dismissed from a university, sued the university following his dismissal. After entering into a settlement, the former student sued the university to suppress the settlement agreement, arguing that the settlement award and transcript should not be sealed. The university countered, asking the court to enforce the award of attorney's fees. Held: For the university. The settlement agreement specifically included an agreement to seal the award and transcript. Therefore, the documents were correctly sealed. Also, the award of attorney fees to the university was proper because the student's attempt to suppress the settlement agreement was without justification. Seals v. Herzog Inc.-New Orleans, 482 Fed. Appx. 893 (5th Cir. 2012)(unpublished).
Debtor sued department of education to discharge student loan pursuant to undue hardship exception of bankruptcy code. A debtor who had received an education in engineering could obtain only low-paying jobs because of an alleged anxiety disorder. The debtor's loans were consolidated and her current loan payments were zero. Held: For the department of education. The debtor was not entitled to discharge her student loan because she failed to present any evidence that she suffered from an anxiety disorder, that she made a good faith effort to repay her loans, or that her monthly payments of zero would cause her standard of living to fall below a minimal level. In re Greene, 484 B.R. 98 (Bankr. E.D. Va. 2012).
Debtor sued creditor, seeking to discharge student loans under undue hardship provision of bankruptcy code. A debtor attended a law school where she incurred a substantial amount of student loans. After she graduated, she could not obtain a full-time legal position, so she worked only part time and earned a low income. Held: For the creditor. The debtor could not discharge her student loans because she failed to show either that she could not maintain a minimal standard of living if forced to repay the loans or that additional circumstances showed that her state of affairs would likely persist. Further, she failed to make a good faith effort to repay her debt by not using her income tax refunds to make payments. In re Wolph, 479 B.R. 725 (Bankr. N.D. Ohio 2012).…
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Publication information: Article title: Recent Decisions - UNIVERSITIES AND OTHER INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING. Contributors: Not available. Journal title: Journal of Law and Education. Volume: 42. Issue: 3 Publication date: Summer 2013. Page number: 555+. © Jefferson Law Book Company Jan 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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