Articles Posted in Education 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

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ACT, Inc. and The College Board (collectively, Defendants) are national testing agencies that administer the ACT and SAT college entrance exams. When a student applies to take a test, Defendants obtain some of the student’s personally identifiable information (PII). As part of the examination process, some students authorize Defendants to share certain PII with participating educational organizations through an information exchange program. In 2014, a group of former information exchange program participants (collectively, Plaintiffs) filed a putative class action complaint against Defendants, alleging that they were harmed because the testing agencies did not disclose that the students’ PII was actually sold to the educational organizations for profit. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), concluding that Plaintiffs failed to establish standing under Article III of the Constitution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff’s factual allegations failed to establish a plausible claim of Article III standing. View "Silha v. ACT, Inc." on Justia Law

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Rahn, a white male who earned a PhD in Industrial Engineering from the University of Illinois, was hired as a visiting professor at NIU. His wife, Regina, was hired as a tenure-track assistant professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering for that same school year. During that year, a tenure-track assistant professor position opened up in the Department. Rahn applied. Despite her husband’s status as an applicant, Regina was a voting member of the search committee. She claims that one committee member stated that he would not hire a white man into the department if qualified minority candidates were available. After another applicant was hired, the Rahns alleged reverse discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 701 42 U.S.C. 2000e, and copyright infringement, based on use of teaching notes and slides. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment on all claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. That testimony did not support indicate that an evaluation metric was a subterfuge for eliminating Rahn on racial grounds. A university employer may properly preference academic experience; Rahn did not present evidence that such a preference was inconsistent with the initial description of the position and the preferred qualifications. View "Rahn v. Bd. of Trs. of N. Ill. Univ." on Justia Law

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In 1986, Packer, a Ph.D. in physiology, began work as a post-doctoral fellow at Indiana University’s School of Medicine. She was appointed to the tenure-track position of assistant professor in 1994. Packer’s 1999 application for tenure on the faculty was denied, but Packer successfully grieved the denial, and in 2001, was awarded tenure. Faculty members are evaluated based on teaching, research, and service. A faculty member’s overall performance is deemed satisfactory if she meets the minimum requirements in all three areas or if she is rated excellent in either teaching or research. The University represents that Packer, in the years leading up to her termination, repeatedly failed to meet expectations with respect to publication and external funding. Packer contends that her research performance is better than the University claims; that any deficiency was because the department chairman assigned her insufficient and inappropriate lab spaces and interfered with her efforts to obtain grant money; and that male faculty members whose research performance also fell short of expectations suffered no adverse consequences. In her suit, alleging sex discrimination, the University moved for summary judgment. Packer’s counsel did not properly support the elements of her claims with specific citations to admissible record evidence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the University. View "Packer v. Trs .of Ind. Univ." on Justia Law