Articles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Craig self-published a book of adult relationship advice, “It’s Her Fault,” in which he discussed sexually provocative themes and used sexually explicit terms. Craig’s employer, a school district, learned of the book and terminated his employment because of it. Craig sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging retaliation for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment. The district court dismissed, reasoning that “It’s Her Fault” did not address a matter of public concern and was not entitled to First Amendment protection. The Seventh Circuit affirmed on an alternative basis. The book deals with adult relationship dynamics, an issue with which many members of the public are concerned, but the school district’s interest in ensuring the effective delivery of counseling services outweighed Craig’s speech interest. The district reasonably predicted that “It’s Her Fault” would disrupt the learning environment at Craig’s school because some students, learning of the book’s hypersexualized content would be reluctant to seek Craig’s advice. View "Craig v. Rich Twp. High Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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In 2007, Professor Ortony of Northwestern University, asked Dean Peterson, for a year’s leave to visit another university. Peterson proposed to authorize paid leave during calendar year 2008 and the 2011–12 academic year, if Ortony would teach during the intervening time and then retire. Peterson’s letter stated: “At your request, I will accept your resignation ... effective with your retirement on August 31, 2012” and specified when Ortony would be on paid leave and when he would carry a full teaching load. Ortony signed the letter in June, 2007. In 2011 Ortony did not want to retire and insisted that he had not agreed to do so. He filed an EEOC charge under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 626, and subsequently filed suit. The district court granted the University judgment on the pleadings. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Northwestern did not terminate Ortony: it bought out his tenure by promising him five years’ pay for three years’ work. That he changed his mind does not make the 2007 contract less binding. The court rejected Ortony’s argument that he “construed the [contract] to set out a tentative plan under which he could leave the University, if he chose to do so, in five years.” View "Ortony v. Northwestern Univ." on Justia Law

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Bovee contends that his sister, Broom, violated the due process clause when, in her role as guidance counselor at his children’s school, she criticized his parenting methods and called him a “bad father.” Bovee claims that this alienated his children’s affections, violating his fundamental liberty interest in familial relations. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Seventh Circuit held that the dismissal should have been on the merits. “The suit is about words, and only words.” Bovee’s lawyer conceded that Broom has not taken any official act adverse to his interests. Defamation, words not accompanied by any other official action, does not violate the due process clause. View "Bovee v. Broom" on Justia Law

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Wilson worked as an admissions representative, recruiting students to enroll in CEC’s culinary arts college. CEC admissions representatives worked under a contract that gave them a bonus for each student they recruited, above a threshold, who completed a full course or a year of study. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education issued regulations prohibiting this kind of arrangement; new rules were scheduled to take effect in July 2011. CEC decided announced to its admissions representatives that it would cease paying bonuses at the end of February 2011 and that no bonuses would be regarded as earned by that date unless the relevant student had completed the year of study or course by that time. Wilson sued, asserting that CEC owed him bonuses for “pipeline” students, whom he had recruited and who were on target to complete a full course or year of study between March and June 2011. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that Wilson successfully pleaded that CEC exercised its right to terminate the agreement in bad faith and in violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. View "Wilson v. Career Educ. Corp," on Justia Law

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The pro se plaintiff filed a qui tam suit against the university and nine chemistry professors, charging that they defrauded the United States in violation of several federal statutes by obtaining federal grant money on the basis of plagiarized research papers. He does not allege that the fraud harmed him, but apparently sought a “bounty,” 37 U.S.C. 3730(d)(1-2). The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that to maintain a suit on behalf of the government, a qui tam plaintiff has to be either a licensed lawyer or represented by a lawyer. Georgakis is neither and cannot maintain the suit in his individual capacity because he does not claim to have been injured. View "Georgakis v. IL State Univ." on Justia Law

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Sroga filed a 54-page complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against employees of Chicago Public Schools and the Board of Education, alleging that they got him fired from his job as an instructor. The district court dismissed for violation of FRCP 8(a)(2), stating that “the morass of irrelevant and tangential allegations” made it “impossible” to evaluate the complaint, but allowed submission of an amended complaint. Sroga timely filed an amended complaint asserting various constitutional and tort-law claims. After five months with no indication of whether Sroga would be permitted to proceed, the district court dismissed most of the claims, leaving claims for retaliatory discharge against an individual and for indemnification against the Board. The court scheduled a status hearing two months later and warned that if Sroga failed to appear, “the Court may dismiss the case for want of prosecution.” The U.S. Marshal’s Office mailed Sroga a letter requesting information about how to serve summonses. Sroga did not respond, and the summonses were returned unexecuted. When Sroga did not appear for his status hearing, the court dismissed. Sroga unsuccessfully moved to vacate, asserting that he was working out of town and did not receive any notification. The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting Sroga’s history of compliance and that one missed date is not generally a basis for dismissal. View "Sroga v. Huberman" on Justia Law

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ITT is a for-profit institution with more than 140 locations and offers post-secondary education. Leveski, who worked at the ITT campus, alleged, under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3730(b) that ITT knowingly submitted false claims to the Department of Education to receive funds from federal student financial assistance programs under the Higher Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 1001. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, finding that the allegations had already been publicly disclosed and that Leveski was not the original source of the allegations. The court granted sanctions of $394,998.33 against Leveski's lawyers. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding the allegations that ITT paid illegal incentive compensation throughout Leveski’s employment as a recruiter and financial aid assistant, sufficiently distinct from prior public disclosures to give the court jurisdiction. The court noted the lack of temporal overlap with allegations by other ITT employees and Leveski’s more detailed allegations. View "Timothy J. Matusheski v. ITT Educational Services, Inc" on Justia Law

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From 1996 to 2003, Harbaugh worked periodically for Chicago Public Schools as a substitute music teacher. In 2003, she was hired as a “full-time basis substitute,” and tin 2004 she was appointed to a fulltime probationary tenure-track teaching position. In 2008, the principal at Harbaugh’s school recommended against renewing her contract. The Chicago Board of Education accepted that recommendation and terminated her appointment effective at the end of the semester. Harbaugh sued, alleging violation of her due-process rights by terminating her employment without a hearing. The district court entered summary judgment for the Board. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Under Illinois law Harbaugh had a constitutionally protected property interest in continued employment only if she had tenure; a teacher becomes tenured at the beginning of her fifth year of full-time employment on the tenure track. Her year as a full-time-basis substitute teacher does not count toward the four-year requirement. View "Harbaugh v. Bd. of Educ. of the City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Smiley was a part-time instructor in the college’s Radio Department from 1994 through January 2009. She is of Palestinian and Lebanese descent. Near the end of the fall 2008 semester, one of the nine students in Smiley’s class met with two faculty members and said he felt Smiley had singled him out in class because he is Jewish. At one of the faculty members’ request, the student outlined his complaint in an email. Faculty members and administrators interviewed the student on several occasions and also interviewed Smiley, who asserted that she was “joking.” The school ultimately informed Smiley that it would not ask her to teach further classes. Smiley claimed that the decision was based on her race or national origin in a suit under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e and 42 U.S.C. 1981. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the college. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Investigations of other instructors to which Smiley referred do not suggest more favorable treatment. The school’s procedures did not require the school to contact other witnesses to alleged discriminatory conduct, and the school’s investigation of the complaint does not indicate that its reason for terminating her position was pretextual. View "Smiley v. Columbia College Chicago" on Justia Law

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Lees was sexually assaulted in her Carthage dorm room by men she believed to be Carthage students. She brought a negligence action against the college, seeking to introduce the opinion testimony of Dr. Kennedy, a premises-security expert, as evidence of the standard of care for campus safety. Kennedy was to testify that there were numerous security deficiencies at Carthage and at Lees’s residence hall, that there was history of sexual assault at the school, and that Carthage fell short of recommended practices in campus security. The district court excluded Kennedy’s testimony, finding that the industry standards were only aspirational and failed to account for variation between different academic environments and that recent sexual assaults at Carthage involved acquaintance rape, while the Lees attack was stranger rape; the court entered summary judgment for Carthage. The Seventh Circuit vacated, finding proposed testimony about standards published by the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators admissible under Rule 702 and not unreliable merely because the standards are aspirational; the standards represent an authoritative statement by premises-security professionals regarding recommended practices. Testimony about the absence of a “prop alarm” on the dorm’s basement door also reflects application of reliable principles and methods to the specific facts of the case. View "Lees v. Carthage Coll." on Justia Law