Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Benner was a 43-year-old high school coach. P.A., 17, hoped to use basketball to obtain a college scholarship. A sexual relationship between the two began after Benner resigned from his position but promised to continue coaching P.A.. Indiana law prohibits anyone who “has or had” a professional relationship with a person under the age of 18 to “use[] or exert[] the person’s professional relationship to engage in sexual intercourse” with that young person. Benner was convicted under Ind. Code 35-42-4-7(n). Indiana courts rejected constitutional challenges and affirmed Benner’s conviction.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Benner’s petition for collateral relief. The statutory definition refers to the defendant’s “ability to exert undue influence over the child.” Benner claimed that a person of ordinary intelligence would not understand how he might use a professional relationship to engage in sexual conduct with a child when that professional relationship has ended. The court stated: It is easy to see how a coach can use that position to groom a youngster for sex, even if the coach plans that the sexual activity will follow the basketball season’s end. While Benner never had an official coaching relation with P.A. after the statutory amendment added the word “had,” Indiana did not charge Benner with conduct that preceded July 2013. No Supreme Court holding “clearly establish[es]” a constitutional problem with the present tense or words such as “use” or “exert”. Compared with some statutes that the Supreme Court has upheld, "35-42-4-7 is a model of precision.” View "Benner v. Carlton" on Justia Law

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Baro was an ESL teacher for Waukegan Community School District in 2019 when she signed a union membership form—a contract to join the union that represents teachers in the District. The form authorized the District to deduct union dues from her paychecks for one year. Baro alleged she learned later that she was not required to join the union. She tried to back out of the agreement. The union insisted that her contract was valid. The District continued deducting dues from her paychecks.Baro filed suit, arguing that the dues deduction violated her First Amendment rights under the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Janus: decision. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Baro voluntarily consented to the withdrawal of union dues. The enforcement of a valid private contract does not implicate her First Amendment rights. The “First Amendment protects our right to speak. It does not create an independent right to void obligations when we are unhappy with what we have said.” View "Baro v. Lake County Federation of Teachers Local 504, IFT-AFT" on Justia Law

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The School District includes four high schools. Groves, who is white, started at the District in 1991 as a teacher. In 2007 he became the Adams High School athletic director. In 2017 Groves applied to serve as Corporation Director of Athletics, a new, District-wide position. Superintendent Spells interviewed four applicants and recommended Gavin, who is Black, explaining that Gavin inspired confidence in his ability to repair the District’s relationship with the Indiana High School Athletic Association; Groves interviewed poorly and seemed to boast of firing 24 coaches during his tenure. Noncompliance with Association regulations occurred under Groves’s watch at Adams.Groves sued under Title VII, noting that Spells is also Black. The District later eliminated the Corporation Director of Athletics position and created a hybrid Dean of Students/Athletics position at each of the four high schools. Groves, Gavin, and seven other candidates applied for the four new positions. The Riley High School position went to Gavin. Groves added a claim of retaliation based on the elimination of his position. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary rejection of his claims. Groves was not substantially more qualified than Gavin. Both met the criteria that the District required for the position. The court rejected a claim of pretext. Although Gavin’s criminal background came to light after the challenged hiring decisions, the District interpreted its background check policy as applying only to external hires, not existing employees moving to new positions. View "Groves v. South Bend Community School Corp." on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction to stop the University of Southern Indiana from imposing a three-semester suspension on the grounds that the university violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 by discriminating against him on the basis of his sex, holding that Plaintiff was not entitled to a preliminary injunction.The university's Title IX committee in this case found by a preponderance of the evidence that Plaintiff, a student of the university, had sexually assaulted another student and imposed a three-semester suspension. Plaintiff subsequently brought a complaint alleging discrimination. The district court denied Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying relief because Plaintiff did not show a likelihood of success on the merits that would support a preliminary injunction. View "Doe v. University of Southern Indiana" on Justia Law

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In this COVID-19 pandemic-related case, the Seventh Circuit vacated in part the judgment of the district court granting Loyola University of Chicago's motion to dismiss this complaint brought by Plaintiffs, three undergraduate students, for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, holding that Plaintiffs pled enough to withstand dismissal for failure to state a claim and that Plaintiffs were entitled to leave to amend to save their alternative claim for unjust enrichment.As a result of the pandemic, Loyola suspended all in-person instruction during the Spring 2020 semester, curtailed access to campus facilities, and moved all instruction online. Plaintiffs brought a putative class action lawsuit against Loyola, arguing that the decision to shut down Loyola's campus deprived them of promised services, such as in-person instruction and access to on-campus facilities, in exchange for tuition and fees. The district court granted Loyola's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, holding (1) Plaintiffs sufficiently pled a claim for breach of an implied contract under Illinois law; and (2) Plaintiffs adequately pled an unjust enrichment claim in the alternative. View "Gociman v. Loyola University of Chicago" on Justia Law

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N.J., in seventh grade, went to school wearing a T-shirt displaying a Smith & Wesson logo, with an image of a revolver. A.L., a high school student, went to school wearing a T-shirt bearing the logo of a gun-rights group, incorporating an image of a handgun. Administrators at both schools barred the boys from wearing the shirts. Neither school’s dress code expressly bans clothing with images of firearms; the dress codes prohibit “inappropriate” attire, which the administrators interpreted to bar any clothing with an image of a firearm. The students brought separate lawsuits alleging violations of their free-speech rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983.The district court consolidated the cases and granted the school administrators summary judgment, declining to apply the Supreme Court’s “Tinker” precedent, which established the legal standard for student-speech cases. The court applied the standard for speech restrictions in a nonpublic forum—the most lenient test— and upheld the administrators’ actions as viewpoint neutral and reasonable.The Seventh Circuit remanded. This is not a speech-forum case. Tinker provides the legal standard: restrictions on student speech are constitutionally permissible if school officials reasonably forecast that the speech “would materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school” or invade the rights of others. Although this test is deferential to school officials and is “applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment,” it is stricter than the test for speech restrictions in a nonpublic forum. View "N.J. v. Sonnabend" on Justia Law

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Illinois State University charges tuition and multiple fees; the Mandatory Fee covers the cost of on-campus facilities and programs. In 2020, after the Governor declared an emergency because of COVID-19 and issued an order forbidding many in-person gatherings, ISU shifted to distance learning over a video system. ISU remitted some but not all of the Mandatory Fee, telling students that the remainder includes the expense of facilities that must be supported no matter how educational services are provided. Two students filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, citing the Takings Clause and the Due Process Clause.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Constitution does not ensure that states keep all of their promises, any more than it ensures that states observe all of their laws. A violation of a state law or a state contract is a violation of a state entitlement, for which the remedy lies under state law. . ISU lacked authority to violate the Governor’s orders. There was no due process violation because the students were not entitled to hearings. What the students want is substantive–a full refund. A breach of contract does not violate the Constitution. Suing ISU officials in their individual capacities makes no difference; there is no vicarious liability under section 1983. “Plaintiffs’ counsel should count themselves lucky that [those officials] did not seek sanctions for frivolous litigation. View "Thiele v. Board of Trustees of Illinois State University" on Justia Law

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Indiana University hired Palmer, who is Black, as a lecturer in Business Marketing in 2010. In 2013, Palmer inquired about his potential for early promotion to senior lecturer. His Department Chair said that it was rare for lecturers to apply for senior lecturer prior to their sixth year and suggested that Palmer wait. Palmer did not apply for early promotion. In 2016, IU promoted Palmer to senior lecturer. Palmer also served as Diversity Coach in the MBA program, for an additional $25,000 per year and a reduced course load; he resigned as Diversity Coach after the 2016–2017 school year. . In 2016, the Marketing Department hired Gildea, who is white, as a new lecturer and as Director of the Business Marketing Academy (BMA). Palmer complained that Gildea’s base salary nearly matched Palmer’s base salary. Palmer earned $98,750; Gildea earned $94,000, with no other lecturer or senior lecturer in their department earning over $90,000. Palmer also complained of discrimination.Palmer filed an EEOC charge, alleging race discrimination in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1), and subsequently filed suit. Palmer’s failure-to-promote claim is time-barred. His unequal pay claim fails on the merits. Palmer enjoyed higher pay than all of his colleagues, except Gildea, who is not a proper comparator. View "Palmer v. Indiana University" on Justia Law

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Wisconsin provides transportation to private-school students, limited to only one school “affiliated or operated by a single sponsoring group” within any given attendance area. The state superintendent decided that St. Augustine, a freestanding entity that describes itself as Catholic but independent of the church’s hierarchy, is “affiliated with or operated by” the same sponsoring group as St. Gabriel, which is run by the Catholic Archdiocese.In 2018, the Seventh Circuit rejected a suit by St. Augustine. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded for further consideration in light of intervening precedent. The Seventh Circuit then certified to the Wisconsin Supreme Court the question of how to determine “affiliation” under state law. That court responded: [I]n determining whether schools are “affiliated with the same religious denomination” [i.e., the same sponsoring group] pursuant to Wis. Stat. 121.51, the Superintendent is not limited to consideration of a school’s corporate documents exclusively. In conducting a neutral and secular inquiry, the Superintendent may also consider the professions of the school with regard to the school’s self-identification and affiliation, but the Superintendent may not conduct any investigation or surveillance with respect to the school’s religious beliefs, practices, or teachings.The Seventh Circuit then reversed. The Superintendent’s decision was not justified by neutral and secular considerations, but necessarily and exclusively rested on a doctrinal determination that both schools were part of a single sponsoring group—the Roman Catholic church—because their religious beliefs, practices, or teachings were similar enough. View "St. Augustine School v. Underly" on Justia Law

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Citing a budget deficit, Chicago’s Board of Education laid off 1,077 teachers and 393 paraprofessional educators in 2011. The Chicago Teachers Union and a class of teachers (CTU) sued, alleging that the layoffs discriminated against African-American teachers and paraprofessionals in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. 2000e.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Board. While CTU made a prima facie case of disparate impact with evidence that African-Americans comprised approximately 30% of Union members at the time of the layoffs but made up just over 40% of Union members receiving layoff notices, the Board’s decision to tie layoffs to declining enrollment in schools was legitimate, job-related, and consistent with business necessity. Beyond noting the existence of open positions for which laid-off employees were qualified, CTU did not meet its burden of establishing that its proposed alternative of transferring employees was “available, equally valid and less discriminatory.” The Illinois statute’s designation of hiring discretion to principals neither promotes discrimination nor bears any relationship to the Board’s decision to tie layoffs to declining enrollment and the transfer alternative proposed by CTU is not consistent with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. CTU did not put forth any evidence of intentional discrimination by the Board. View "Chicago Teachers Union v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago" on Justia Law