Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Universities and Other Institutions of Higher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Universities and Other Institutions of Higher Education

Article excerpt

Constitutional Claims and Civil Rights

University students sued university officials under the Civil Rights Act, alleging unfair punishment. University students were punished pursuant to a university's student disciplinary procedures for allegedly attacking and kicking another student. The students alleged that they suffered multiple deprivations of their constitutional rights when university president imposed on them more severe sanctions than those recommended by student disciplinary board. Held: For the university officials. The university officials did not violate students' due process rights because the president was not the ultimate fact finder. Rather, the president merely reviewed the findings of fact made by the disciplinary board. In addition, the students were afforded a thirteen-hour trial before a student disciplinary body but failed to demonstrate a constitutional injury during the trial. Tigrett v. Rector and Visitors of the Univ. of Va., 290 F3d 620 (4th Cir. 2002).

Former professor sued university alleging gender discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and retaliation for filing a sex discrimination claim. A professor alleged the university denied her tenure because of her sex and that the university discriminated against her during her employment in the distribution of workload and salary increases. The professor also asserted that the university terminated her in retaliation for filing the discrimination claim. Held: For the university. The professor presented no evidence rising to the level of sexual discrimination. The university did not retaliate against her discrimination claim, because the decision to terminate her was based on recommendations made to the university's president before she filed her claim. McFadden v. St. Univ. of N.Y, Coll. at Brockport, 195 F. Supp.2d 436 (W.D. N.Y. 2002).

University employee brought free speech constitutional claim against the university. The employee claimed that the university transferred her to another position because she disapproved of the university's new admission policy and requested a meeting with the university president. Held: For the employee. Although the university offered evidence that the transfer was based on other legitimate factors, enough suspicious circumstances surrounded the transfer to allow the case to go forward. Also, the substance of the employee's speech and the corrective action of the transfer appeared to be linked. Nethersole v. Bulger, 287 F.3d 15 (1 st Cir. 2002).

Student-athletes, attending a federally funded state university, sued the university, university officials, and university trustees, alleging violations of Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. A university's board of trustees eliminated men's intercollegiate soccer, tennis and wrestling to comply with the requirements of Title IX. The student-athletes, who were members of these disbanded teams, believed they were denied an opportunity to participate in intercollegiate soccer, tennis and wrestling because of their gender. Held: For the university, university officials and university trustees. In limited circumstances, a gender-based classification favoring one sex can be justified under the Equal Protection clause if it intentionally and directly assists members of the sex that have been disproportionately discriminated against in the past. Moreover, the student-athletes did not have a constitutional right to play intercollegiate athletics. Finally, they did not prove that the university failed to provide equal athletic opportunities by gender. Miami Univ. Wrestling Club v. Miami Univ., 195 F. Supp. 2d 1010 (S.D. Ohio 2001).

Student Disabilities

Student sued university, alleging university dismissed him because of a learning disability. A student was admitted to a university's pre-medicine program conditioned upon the student's performance of minimum academic requirements. After his first semester, he failed to meet the minimum standards and was placed on probation with further conditions that he attend tutoring and submit to testing for learning disabilities at the university's learning center. The learning center misdiagnosed the student as disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and provided accommodations for him while taking exams. Although his grades improved, his final grade point average was still below the minimum requirement and the medical school dismissed him from the program. Held: For the university. Since the student did not have an ADA-- recognized disability, the university did not discriminate against him on the basis of his actual disability. Further, since it was undisputed that he was dismissed solely because of his grades, the university did not discriminate against him based on its subjective belief that he was disabled. Therefore, his discrimination claim under the ADA failed. Betts v. Rector and Visitors of the Univ. of Va., 198 E Supp. 2d 787 (W.D. Va. 2002).


Summer inhabitant of a college fraternity house sued college and fraternity, alleging they were responsible for his injury from a gunshot wound. While he was living in a fraternity house over summer break, an inhabitant was shot by an individual who entered the house in the middle of the night. Held: For the college and fraternity. No duty existed on the part of the college or fraternity to make sure the summer inhabitant was protected from this criminal attack. Therefore, neither college nor fraternity were responsible for the injuries caused by the attack. Letsinger v. Drury Coll., 68 S.W.3d 408 (Mo. 2002).

Female guest at a party sued college student, alleging his negligence during a party caused her injuries. While an under-age guest attended the dormitory room party of a college student, she consumed so much alcohol that she was rendered unconscious and extremely ill. On the night in question, the student allegedly served alcohol to minors, raped the guest and failed to get her medical attention. Held: For the student in part and the guest in part. The student had no obligation to find medical assistance for the guest, since the two had no special relationship. Questions still existed as to whether he raped the guest and provided alcohol to minors. Freeman v. Busch, 199 E Supp.2d 907 (S.D. Iowa 2002).

Nonprofit state university claimed immunity from suit under the Charitable Immunity Act (CIA). A student fell down a staircase in a campus amphitheater and suffered multiple injuries for which he brought suit. The university asserted immunity as a defense under the CIA. Held: For the university. The nonprofit university was created exclusively for educational purposes and qualified for immunity under the CIA even though the university received public funds. O'Connell v. State, 795 A.2d 857 (N.J. 2002).

Music professor sued university for breach of contract and defamation. After submitting his tenure application, a professor was accused of plagiarism. The professor claimed the university breached his employment contract by not following proper procedures in the plagiarism investigation. The professor also claimed that the university defamed him by publishing the plagiarism allegations. Held: For the professor. The university breached the employment contract by failing to follow the procedure outlined in employment handbook for investigating plagiarism allegations. However, the university did not have an absolute privilege to publish the allegations without defaming the professor. Tacka v. Georgetown Univ., 193 F. Supp.2d 43 (D.C. 2001).

Faculty & Teachers-Employment & Dismissal

University system appealed public employee labor relations board ruling certifying bargaining unit of adjunct teaching faculty. A university system argued that the courts had already determined that temporary employees could not form bargaining units. Held: For the teaching faculty. Work conditions had changed since the prior ruling. Because of the college's reliance on their services, the adjunct faculty expected to teach semester after semester. Therefore, the adjunct faculty could form a bargaining unit. App. of Univ. Sys. of N.H. Bd. of Trustees, 795 A.2d 840 (N.H. 2002).

Professor filed suit against university alleging violation of her rights to free speech, due process and equal protection. A professor filed a gender discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against a university. Subsequently, the university initiated disciplinary action against the professor, alleging that she had improperly released confidential information to a student. A letter of reprimand was placed in the professor's employment file, and she filed a second complaint with the EEOC. Also, the university gave an annual merit pay increase to every member of her department except her. The professor then sued the university, alleging the university's disciplinary actions were in retaliation for her EEOC complaints and that the university was constraining her free speech rights through those actions. Held: For the professor in part and the university in part. The professor presented all the elements necessary to proceed with a retaliation claim against the university as well as evidence sufficient to allow the free speech claim to continue. However, the university's disciplinary actions were not in violation of her due process rights. Speers v. Univ. of Akron, 189 F. Supp.2d 759 (N.D. Ohio 2002).

University appealed decision that it was guilty of sex discrimination, breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation because it denied professor's tenure. Professor sued after being denied tenure. The university claimed that the jury verdict was incorrect and should be set aside by the judge, or that they should be granted the opportunity for a new trial. Held: For the university in part and the professor in part. The professor's evidence was insufficient to support the jury's decision that the university was guilty of sex discrimination. However, because the university changed the standard of review for tenure without notifying the professor, the jury's determination that the university breached its contract with the professor was not clearly against the weight of the evidence, and would therefore stand. Furthermore, the professor's evidence indicating the university's negligent misrepresentations in the professor's previous evaluations also sufficiently supported a finding of guilt. Because the jury's findings were, in totality, not clearly against the weight of the evidence, a new trial was not granted. Crane v. Trinity Coll., 791 A.2d 518 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2002).

Former employees of community college sought reinstatement of their positions. A community college's board of trustees adopted a resolution creating fourteen new positions and eliminating thirty-two positions. The resolution came after the county legislature formed and funded a budget including the positions the board of trustees chose to eliminate. The employees claimed they were unlawfully dismissed. Held: For the employees. The board of trustees lacked authority to abolish their positions through the adoption of the resolution. The county legislature, not the board, has the right to abolish and create positions. Stearns v. Mariani, 741 N.Y.S.2d 357 (N.Y. App. Div. 2002).

Former employee sued university, claiming wrongful termination n retaliation for filing a worker's compensation claim and discrimination based on national origin. A university hired a lead custodian on a probationary status, allowing the university to dismiss the employee, if necessary, without following the standard procedures for termination. Subsequently the employee injured herself at home and was unable to work. Her university supervisors rated her performance as poor on her evaluation and she was dismissed. Held: For the employee. The employee presented enough evidence to establish that her discharge could have been wrongful and she should be allowed to proceed with that portion of the suit. However, the discrimination charge was dismissed since the employee failed to present any evidence substantiating that charge. Chhim v. U. of Houston, 76 S.W.3d 210 (Tex. Ct. App. 2002).

University employee sued university for not allowing him to withdraw his letter of resignation. University officials terminated employee at the conclusion of his probationary appointment and returned him to his former position. The angered employee then signed a letter of resignation with the human resources department. Five days later the employee wrote a letter requesting withdrawal of the resignation, but the request was denied. Held: For the employee. Allowing a submitted resignation to be withdrawn is within the sound discretion of the appointing authority, as long as the decision is not made arbitrarily or capriciously. The employee's evidence sufficiently established an allegation that the decision was arbitrary and capricious to allow the suit to proceed. Martinez v. St. U. of NY, 741 N.YS.2d 602 (N.Y App. Div. 2002).

Former employee sued state department of technical education and others, claiming department retaliated against her in violation of her First Amendment rights. A state general assembly mandated workforce reduction. As a result, a former regional educational consultant was laid off. The former consultant criticized the criteria for position elimination selection and questioned the state department's motives in the retention of a newly hired young man. She sued the state department, alleging the department eliminated her position in retaliation for her criticisms. Held: For the state department. In order for speech to be protected under the First Amendment, the subject of the speech must be a matter of public interest. Because the employee's criticisms did not involve matters of public concern, they were not protected by the First Amendment. Gragg v. Ky. Cabinet for Workforce Dev., 289 F.3d 958 (6th Cir. 2002).

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