Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law

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PFAC is the collective‐bargaining representative for more than 1,200 part‐time faculty members at Columbia College Chicago. The parties agreed to continue under a 2006-2010 collective bargaining agreement while they bargained for a successor agreement. During negotiations, Columbia unilaterally decided to reduce the credit hours for 10 courses in its School of Fine and Performing Arts (SFPA). Consistent with the CBA, Columbia notified part‐time faculty members affected by these changes, but not PFAC. PFAC filed an unfair‐labor‐practice charge regarding Columbia’s refusal to bargain over the effects reduction of course credit hours in a different department. The parties settled that charge. Negotiations broke down. PFAC learned of the SFPA credit‐hour reductions and demanded to bargain. In February 2012, PFAC called for Columbia to resume negotiations. Columbia responded that it had no obligation to bargain about the course‐credit‐hour reductions. The parties resumed negotiations in June. In August, the NLRB lodged a complaint against Columbia, alleging violations of 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(1),(5), by failing to bargain: over the effects of the credit‐hour reductions before May 2012; for a successor CBA from February to June 2012; and in good faith. The Board upheld the charges and awarded bargaining expenses. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part. Columbia was not required to bargain over the effects of the credit‐hour reductions. The college had already satisfied its statutory bargaining duty on this issue when it negotiated and entered into the 2006 CBA. View "National Labor Relations Board v. Columbia College Chicago" on Justia Law

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Wilson was an admissions representative, recruiting students to CEC’s culinary arts college. Wilson earned a bonus for each student that he recruited above a threshold who either completed a full course or a year of study. If a representative was terminated, he was entitled only to bonuses already earned, not including students “in the pipeline.” CEC reserved the right to “terminate or amend” the contract at any time, for any reason, in its sole discretion. The Education Department released regulations, to become effective in July 2011, prohibiting institutions participating in Title IV student financial aid programs from providing bonuses based on securing enrollment. CEC decided to pay bonuses that were earned as of February 28, 2011, depriving Wilson of bonuses that were in the pipeline. CEC raised the base salary by at least the total of 3% plus 75% of each representative’s previous two years’ bonuses. Wilson sued. The Seventh Circuit remanded, holding that Wilson must prove that CEC exercised its discretion in a manner contrary to the parties' reasonable expectations. On remand, the district court rejected an argument that cost savings, not compliance with the regulations, drove CEC’s decision. There were no cost savings to CEC. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Even accepting Wilson’s characterization, the evidence is insufficient to allow a jury to reasonably conclude that CEC breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. View "Wilson v. Career Education Corp." on Justia Law

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Former students who participated on Penn’s women’s track and field team, regulated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sued Penn, the NCAA, and more than 120 other NCAA Division I member schools, alleging that student athletes are “employees” within the meaning of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201 and violated the FLSA by not paying their athletes a minimum wage. The district court dismissed, holding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue any of the defendants other than Penn, and failed to state a claim against Penn because student athletes are not employees under the FLSA. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The plaintiffs did not plausibly allege any injury traceable to, or redressable by, any defendant other than Penn. Citing the Department of Labor Field Operations Handbook, the court reasoned that NCAA-regulated sports are “extracurricular,” “interscholastic athletic” activities and that the Department did not intend the FLSA to apply to student athletes. View "Berger v. National Collegiate Athletic Association" on Justia Law

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Whitaker is a transgender boy whose high school will not permit him to use the boys’ bathroom. He sued, alleging violation of Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681, and the Equal Protection Clause. The defendants appealed denial of a motion to dismiss, arguing that appellate jurisdiction was proper under 28 U.S.C. 1292(b). The district court subsequently vacated its certification and the Seventh Circuit denied permission to appeal. The district court’s decision to withdraw certification destroyed jurisdiction to consider the petition under section 1292(b). View "Kenosha Unified School District v. Whitaker" on Justia Law

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Officer Byrne, responding to a bar fight, spotted one man chasing another. One man reached and entered a parked car; the other began punching at the driver’s window. Byrne restrained the pursuer, Hess, a student at Southern Illinois University. The car drove away. Hess stated that Franks had hit Hess’s sister in the face. Hess gave chase but claimed to have never made contact with Franks. Hess’s girlfriend and his siblings corroborated his story, though the sister did not have any injuries. Franks, who had driven himself to a hospital, had been stabbed several times. Franks’s description of his attacker matched Hess’s appearance. Hess was charged with aggravated battery. SIU’s Director of Students reviewed the incident reports and recommended that Hess be suspended. Although he received personal notice of his rights, Hess did not request an interim hearing, and, while suspended, missed final exams. At a subsequent hearing, Hess testified but said little. His counsel, who was present, had instructed him not to answer questions. Hess’s girlfriend testified on his behalf. Byrne testified that officers had found no evidence that Hess had a knife. Hess was expelled; he filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The university is not a “person” from whom money damages can be obtained under section 1983. Hess established neither a protected property interest nor a protected liberty interest; even if he had proven such an interest, defendants provided Hess with sufficient procedural protections. View "Hess v. Bd. of Trs. of S. Ill. Univ." on Justia Law

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In 2006, Southern Illinois University (SIU) hired Dr. Hatcher as an assistant professor of political science. In 2010 Hatcher assisted a graduate student in making a sexual harassment complaint about a faculty member. Hatcher was up for tenure and promotion to associate professor in 2011. Hatcher had received positive annual evaluations. Her external reviewers all recommended tenure.The political science department voted in favor of promotion and tenure. The College of Liberal Arts committee voted 5‐4 in favor of tenure and 5‐4 against promotion, noting Hatcher’s success in teaching and service, but expressing concern about her lack of academic publications in prestigious journals. The dean recommended that she receive neither tenure nor promotion. The provost agreed. Hatcher was denied tenure and, later, fired. Two male professors in Hatcher’s department were promoted and awarded tenure. The Review Board found that the provost did not sufficiently explain his decision; the Chancellor agreed, but declined to reverse the denial. Hatcher filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Her subsequent suit was dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part. Hatcher did not produce evidence from which a jury could conclude that SIU was lying about its reason for denying her tenure; she was not engaging in speech protected under Title VII or by the First Amendment when she assisted the student with the sexual harassment report. The court reversed dismissal of her claim of retaliation for filing a charge with the EEOC. View "Hatcher v. Bd. of Trs. of S. Ill. Univ." on Justia Law

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In 1994, Shott, a tenured associate professor of biostatistics at Rush University, sued, claiming discrimination by refusing to make reasonable accommodations for her religion (Orthodox Judaism) and disability (rheumatoid arthritis). A jury rejected Shott’s claim of religious discrimination but awarded her $60,000 for disability discrimination. She sued Rush again in 2011, alleging that Rush refused to increase her salary or promote her in retaliation for her earlier lawsuit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Rush. While that lawsuit was pending, Shott sued Katz (42 U.S.C. 1981), whom she had occasionally helped with statistical analysis, alleging that, in retaliation for her litigation Katz impeded her career advancement by rebuffing her invitations to collaborate. Katz was also Shott’s treating rheumatologist; she claimed he failed to timely respond to requests for prescription refills, requiring her to have an examination every six months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal, noting that Shott had not alleged that Katz’s medical care affected Shott's employment. Nor did the examination requirement amount to a material adverse action. “If she was not willing to comply with that obviously reasonable condition, she should have tried to find a new doctor, not filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.” Shott failed to allege a sufficient “nexus” between Katz’s refusal to collaborate and her career advancement; Katz’s decisions about what research to pursue, and with whom, are protected by the First Amendment. View "Shott v. Katz" on Justia Law

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After he was temporarily suspended from Watseka Community High School for allegedly consuming or possessing drugs, Dietchweiler filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the defendants violated his due process rights, with state law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, slander, and violations of the Illinois School Code, 105 ILCS 5/10-22.6, which provides procedures for suspending and expelling students. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment on the due process claim and dismissed the state law claims without prejudice. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The administrators explained to Dietchwieler and his parents the general nature of the charges against him and provided him with a written suspension notice. Most of Dietchweiler’s complaints about the hearing relate to the defendants’ alleged failure to follow their own published policies and procedures, but failure to follow state statutes or state-mandated procedures does not amount to a federal due process claim of constitutional magnitude. While the Board disbelieved the evidence he presented, due process does not guarantee that his version of events will be believed. View "Dietchweiler v. Lucas" on Justia Law

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The Board of Education has a written policy that forbids teachers from using racial epithets in front of students, no matter the purpose. Brown, a Chicago sixth grade teacher, caught students passing a note in class. The note contained music lyrics with the offensive word “nigger.” Brown used the episode as an opportunity to conduct an apparently well‐intentioned discussion of why such words must not be used. The school principal happened to observe the lesson. Brown was suspended and brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Two of his theories were rejected on summary judgment: that his suspension violated his First Amendment rights, and that the school’s policy was so vague that his suspension violated the substantive due process component of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating “not everything that is undesirable, annoying, or even harmful amounts to a violation of the law, much less a constitutional problem.” Public‐employee speech is subject to a special set of First Amendment rules. Brown himself emphasized that he was speaking as a teacher, an employee, not as a citizen, so his suspension did not implicate his First Amendment rights. Brown’s surprise at being disciplined, along with a few episodes of non‐enforcement, do not support a substantive due process claim. View "Brown v. Chicago Bd. of Educ." on Justia Law

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In November 2010, Board of Education Chief Area Officer Coates sent Bordelon , the long-tenured principal of the Kozminski Academy, notice of a pre‐discipline hearing based on insubordination in failing to respond to a parent issue; failing to arrange a requested meeting regarding the arrest of Kozminski students; and failing to respond to Coates’s email. Bordelon received a five‐day suspension without pay, which he never served. In December 2010, Coates evaluated Bordelon as needing improvement, noting that Kozminski was on academic probation for a second year with test scores trending downward. Coates reassigned Bordelon to home with full pay pending an investigation into improperly replacing asbestos‐containing tile at Kozminski; purchasing irregularities; and tampering with school computers in a manner that impeded Board access to Kozminski’s records. In early 2011, Kozminski's Local School Council voted to not renew Bordelon’s contract. Bordelon, age 63, believed that Coates, exercised undue influence over the decision, based his age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 623. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Board, stating that that Bordelon did not prove discrimination and that there was substantial evidence of independent reasons for not renewing Bordelon’s contract, making it unlikely that Coates influenced the Board. View "Bordelon v. Bd of Educ. of the City of Chicago" on Justia Law