Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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Columbia students Jane and John had a sexual encounter. Weeks later Jane alleged she had not consented to the encounter. Columbia investigated. John did not provide any exculpatory evidence. Columbia’s Title IX coordinator reviewed the investigative report and notified John that there was sufficient evidence for a hearing panel. John responded that the allegations were false and that he had been physically assaulted and verbally harassed by Jane and her friends. Campus safety identified the student who struck John and addressed the issue. Columbia addressed each of his concerns, reminded John that he could submit evidence, including evidence of bias by a Columbia employee, and identified an academic advisor who could approve any accommodations John might need. John responded with screenshots of text messages, his earlier letter, and a toxicology report. The hearing panel found by a preponderance of the evidence that John violated Columbia’s student sexual misconduct policy and suspended him for the academic year. Columbia's appeals officer upheld the findings and discipline. John filed suit, alleging violations of Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681, breach of contract, promissory estoppel, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. John failed to allege particularized facts that could lead to a reasonable inference that Columbia denied him an educational benefit because of his sex. Columbia responded quickly and diligently to his complaints and gave him multiple opportunities to present evidence. View "Doe v. Columbia College Chicago" on Justia Law

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Until 2013, Wozniak had tenure on the University of Illinois faculty. He waged an extended campaign against students who did not give him a teaching award. As he had done before when the University enforced school policies, Wozniak filed suit. Disagreeing with the University’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the Board of Trustees terminated Wozniak. After the Committee had issued its report, Wozniak posted the entire document and evidence on his website, revealing the identities of the students involved. Wozniak also filed a state court civil suit seeking damages from the students, planning to get a judicial order requiring the students to sit for depositions. Wozniak sued the University alleging violations of the First Amendment. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wozniak was fired for intentionally causing hurt to students, and refusing to follow the Dean’s instructions, not simply for publicizing the effects of his actions. Wozniak acted in his capacity as a teacher and used his position to inflict the injuries that precipitated his discharge. The First Amendment does not govern how employers respond to speech that is part of a public employee’s job. How faculty members relate to students is part of their jobs. Speech that concerns personal job-related matters is outside the scope of the First Amendment, even if that speech is not among the job’s duties. View "Wozniak v. Adesida" on Justia Law

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Collins was a tenured professor at the University. A faculty committee found that Collins had misused grant money by purchasing equipment other than that in his grant proposals and using the equipment for personal purposes and concluded that his actions warranted “dismissal for serious cause” under the Academic Articles incorporated in Collins’s faculty contract. After an internal review, Notre Dame’s president dismissed Collins. Before criminal charges were filed against him, Collins filed suit, alleging breach of contract. Before his guilty plea, the district court granted Collins summary judgment on liability, finding that Notre Dame breached the contract by allowing one faculty member to both play a role in informal mediation and then serve on the hearing committee. The court did not decide whether the committee’s findings amounted to sufficient cause to dismiss a tenured faculty member. After Collins’s 2013 guilty plea to a federal felony charge for theft of government grant funds in this same conduct, Notre Dame re‐instituted Collins’s adjudication and dismissed him again. After the guilty plea, the court reaffirmed its earlier breach of contract finding, held a trial on damages, and awarded Collins $501,367, calculated as his lost compensation from his June 2010 dismissal until his February 2013 conviction. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The contract did not prohibit one faculty member from participating in informal mediation and then serving on the hearing committee and the undisputed facts show “serious cause” sufficient to warrant Collins’s dismissal. View "Collins v. University of Notre Dame Du Lac" on Justia Law

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Purdue students John and Jane had consensual sexual intercourse 15-20 times. Jane’s behavior became erratic. Jane attempted suicide. Weeks later, John reported Jane’s suicide attempt to an advisor. Jane was upset and distanced herself from John. Months later, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Jane alleged that while sleeping with John, she woke to him groping her over her clothes. Jane says she reprimanded John. John then purportedly confessed that he had digitally penetrated her while she was sleeping weeks earlier. Jane told the university that John had gone through her underwear drawer, chased her through a hallway while joking about tasering her, gone to her room unannounced, and lost his temper in front of her. Purdue pursued Jane’s allegations although Jane did not file a formal complaint. John was suspended from Navy ROTC, banned from buildings where Jane had classes and from his dining hall. John submitted a denial, noting that after the alleged incidents, Jane texted him over the holidays, sent his family cookies, and invited him to her room. Investigators neither gave him a copy of the report nor shared its contents. Moments before his committee appearance, he learned that it falsely claimed that he had confessed and failed to describe Jane’s suicide attempt. Jane neither appeared nor submitted a written statement. The panel refused John permission to present witnesses. John was found guilty by a preponderance of the evidence. Purdue suspended him for a year and imposed conditions on his readmission. The ROTC program terminated his scholarship. John sued, asserting Purdue used flawed procedures and violated Title IX by imposing a punishment infected by sex bias. A magistrate dismissed. The Seventh Circuit reversed. John adequately alleged violations of both the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX. View "Doe v. Purdue University" on Justia Law

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GL services repayment of Nelson's federally-insured student loans. On its website, GL tells borrowers struggling to make their loan payments: “Our trained experts work on your behalf,” and “You don’t have to pay for student loan services or advice,” because “Our expert representatives have access to your latest student loan information and understand all of your options.” Nelson alleged that when she and other members of the putative class struggled to make payments, GL steered borrowers into repayment plans that were to its advantage and to borrowers’ detriment. She alleged violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, constructive fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. The district court dismissed the claims as preempted by a federal Higher Education Act provision: “Loans made, insured, or guaranteed pursuant to a program authorized by ... the Higher Education Act ... shall not be subject to any disclosure requirements of any State Law,” 20 U.S.C. 1098g. The Seventh Circuit vacated. When a loan servicer holds itself out as having experts who work for borrowers, tells borrowers that they need not look elsewhere for advice, and tells them that its experts know what options are in their best interest, those statements, when untrue, are not mere failures to disclose information but are affirmative misrepresentations. A borrower who reasonably relied on them to her detriment is not barred from bringing state‐law consumer protection and tort claims. View "Nelson v. Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Wanko, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Cameroon, began studying dentistry at IU in 2014 and failed two courses. IU allowed Wanko to remediate RP and retake STI. To pass the RP remediation, a student had to score at least 80% on the exam. Wanko scored 71%. IU notified Wanko she would have to repeat the whole first‐year curriculum. She was the only student in her class held back. Wanko failed to complete her repeat of STI. IU dismissed her. Wanko’s GPA was 1.965. Wanko sued (Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000d), claiming that similarly situated, non‐black students were promoted when she was not. In discovery, IU produced spreadsheets showing the GPA, grades, race, and gender of each student in Wanko’s class, identifying each by number. IU cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act’s safeguards concerning the release of student information, 20 U.S.C. 1232g. IU’s spreadsheets showed only two students had failed both RP and STI in the 2014–2015 school year: Wanko and another black female, who successfully remediated RP, had a GPA above 2.0, and was allowed to proceed to the second‐year curriculum. Wanko moved to compel the production of actual student records, claiming the spreadsheets were unreliable. The district court overruled Wanko’s objection to the magistrate’s denial of the motion and granted IU summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The spreadsheets showed no student, let alone one outside of a protected class, was similarly situated to Wanko. View "Wanko v. Board of Trustees of Indiana University" on Justia Law

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Wisconsin amended its state constitution to permit state‐funded transportation of private and parochial students. Under Wis. Stat. 121.54, if a school district operating within a metropolitan area where other public transportation is available to schoolchildren exercises the "city option," there must “be reasonable uniformity" regardless of whether students attend public or private schools. The Milwaukee district (MPS) has public city-wide schools, which offer special courses; attendance‐area schools, which draw only from a particular neighborhood; and nonattendance-area schools, which do not offer special classes but serve students from outside the area. MPS Policy provides free transportation for high schoolers only if they live two or more miles from their school and more than one mile from public transportation. Students who attend citywide or nonattendance‐area schools are governed by “Racial Balance, Modernization, Overload, and Lack of Facility” rules, making any student assigned to a school farther than two miles from her home eligible for free transportation, regardless of proximity to public transportation. Private schools must submit lists of students eligible to receive busing by May 15. There is no notification deadline for public schools. On May 14, St. Joan, a private school, submitted a 62-name list; on September 29, it added six names. MPS refused to bus any of the students because each lived within one mile of public transportation, and the later‐added students were disclosed after the deadline. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Rational bases exist for the differences in busing eligibility. MPS has legitimate interests in reducing overcapacity in crowded attendance‐area schools and in expanding special program access. MPS students who attend citywide or nonattendance‐area schools are more likely to have to travel farther than students who go to attendance‐area schools. The court remanded with respect to the deadline. View "St. Joan Antida High School Inc. v. Milwaukee Public School District" on Justia Law

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Under Wisconsin’s open-enrollment program, a public-school student can apply to transfer from his resident school district to a nonresident district that has available space. The program distinguishes between regular education and special education spaces. If a student with a disability requires special services, a nonresident district may deny the student’s transfer application if it lacks the services or space necessary to meet those special needs. Disabled school children, whose transfer applications were denied because nonresident districts determined that they could not meet the students’ special needs, sued the school districts and state actors under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12132; section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794(a); and the Equal Protection Clause. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Differential treatment of special-needs students does not make the program unlawful. Federal law forbids discrimination based on stereotypes about a handicap but does not forbid decisions based on the actual attributes of the handicap. The program makes decisions based on the actual needs of disabled students, so it complies with federal law. Even analyzing the case as a request for an accommodation, the requested change would fundamentally alter the program; neither the ADA nor the Rehabilitation Act requires fundamental alterations. View "P.F., a minor, by A.F., v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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The District operates Naperville Central High School (NCHS), where H.P. attended three years of high school. In 2006, during her junior year, H.P.’s mother committed suicide. H.P. moved from her mother’s Naperville home to her father’s home, which is not in the District. H.P. completed her junior year at NCHS. Before the 2017‐18 school year, the District learned that H.P. no longer lived in the District. H.P.’s father asked the District to allow H.P. to attend her senior year at NCHS, instead of Downers Grove North High School. Under the District’s policy, “[a] student must establish residency within the School District boundaries.” Her father asked the District to waive that requirement to allow H.P. to attend NCHS as an accommodation for certain claimed disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act, including anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and seizures. The District again denied the request. H.P. enrolled in DGNHS, where she ultimately graduated. H.P. and her father filed suit, asserting disparate impact and disparate treatment under ADA Title II and Rehabilitation Act Section 504. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary rejection of both claims. H.P. could not show causation, i.e., that but‐for her alleged disability, she would have been able to obtain her requested accommodation--attending NCHS. View "H. P. v. Naperville Community Unit School District 203" on Justia Law

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Ashby’s son was a member of his elementary school choir. In 2014 and 2015, the choir performed a Christmas concert at a local museum in a historic building. The building was not then accessible to persons with disabilities. Ashby, who uses a wheelchair, was unable to attend the concerts. She sued the School Corporation, alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12132, and the Rehabilitation Act. The district court concluded that the Christmas concert was not a “service, program, or activity of” the Warrick Schools, nor was the concert an activity “provided or made available” by the School Corporation and granted summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, accepting the Department of Justice’s suggestion that when a public entity offers a program in conjunction with a private entity, the question of whether a service, program, or activity is one “of” a public entity is fact-based and that there is a “spectrum” of possible relationships ranging from a “true joint endeavor” to participation in a wholly private event. The Department’s interpretation of its regulations is a reasonable one that offers a loose but practical framework that aids in decision-making. Upon close examination of the record, it is clear that the event in question was not a service, program, or activity provided or made available by the School Corporation. View "Ashby v. Warrick County School Corp" on Justia Law