Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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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

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Chicago offers public-school teachers higher pay if they earn extra college credits. Graham sought a higher salary under this program in July 2015, only to have her application ignored. She tried again in September and was fired on the ground that her application had been backdated, which the Board of Education considered fraud. A hearing officer ordered her reinstated with back pay. Graham alleges the Board did not honor this decision in full, published a declaration that she is a fraudster, and refused to consider her for open positions. Graham sued, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. 1983 by discriminating against her on account of sex and race and of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by depriving her of pension and health benefits.The Seventh Circuit vacated the dismissal of the complaint. The complaint does not identify other employees who received better treatment from the school system but It is enough for a plaintiff to assert that she was treated worse because of protected characteristics. The school system’s plans are exempt from ERISA. Because the state not only funds the charter schools but also approves their establishment and continued existence, it is not appropriate to treat them as private institutions subject to public regulation. View "Graham v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Two female students brought claims under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681–88, alleging that the School District failed to prevent and inappropriately responded to sexual misconduct by a male student. The incidents occurred while the District did not have insurance coverage for sexual misconduct and molestation. After the District settled the suit for $1.5 million, its insurers sought a declaration of their rights and obligations under the District’s errors-and-omissions coverage. The district court held that the errors and omissions coverage applies although the policy contains a sexual misconduct exclusion. The judge stated that the exclusion was ambiguous and could be read to exclude only sexual misconduct by a school employee and might not bar coverage for “reactions to” a student’s sexual misconduct.The Seventh Circuit reversed. The sexual-misconduct exclusion is not ambiguous in precluding coverage for “[a]ny” sexual misconduct or molestation of “any person” and related allegations. Even if the sexual-misconduct exclusion barred only coverage for employees’ actions, the exclusion still applies. The District is not directly liable for misconduct by students. A school district can be liable for discrimination in cases of student-on-student sexual misconduct under Title IX only if the district has notice and is deliberately indifferent. By excluding coverage for “allegations relating” to sexual misconduct, the exclusion necessarily bars coverage for “reactions to” sexual misconduct. View "Netherlands Insurance Co. v. Macomb Community Unit School District" on Justia Law

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Starting next semester, Indiana University students must be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they are exempt for medical or religious reasons. Exempted students must wear masks and be tested for the disease twice a week. The district court rejected a due process challenge to those rules.The Seventh Circuit denied an injunction pending appeal. The court noted that vaccinations and other public health requirements are common, that the University has allowed for exemptions, and that the students could choose to attend a school that has no vaccination requirement. View "Klaassen v. Trustees of Indiana University" on Justia Law

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Chatman, an African-American, worked as an instructor assistant, 1988-1996. From 1997-2009, she worked as a school library assistant. In 2009, the Board of Education informed her that it was eliminating her position. Chatman learned that the Board had replaced Chatman (age 62) with a younger, non-African American employee in the same role. Chatman filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the EEOC and then sued in Illinois state court. The Board settled. In addition to a monetary payment, the district was to arrange for interviews for open positions for which Chatman was qualified. Chatman began identifying available positions but did not receive any job offer. She filed a new charge with the EEOC and later filed suit, alleging violations of Title VII’s anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation provisions, and violation of the anti-discrimination provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Board, finding certain claims barred by the statute of limitations, and, regarding other positions, that Chatman could not establish that she was qualified for the positions, nor could she establish that the Board’s nondiscriminatory reasons for not offering her the positions were pretextual for discrimination. Chatman could not establish that she was denied a job because of her prior protected activity. View "Chatman v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Castelino enrolled at Rose-Hulman. Based on his ADHD and a learning disorder, Rose-Hulman granted him 100% extended time on tests and quizzes, which he was allowed to take in a distraction-free environment. Castelino was reprimanded for copying from another student’s homework and separately for submitting duplicate work. Castelino lied to his professor about the notes he used during an exam. Because this was Castelino’s third documented case of academic misconduct, it was forwarded to the Rules and Discipline Committee. Castelino was suspended for one quarter. Castelino unsuccessfully applied for readmission multiple times. The Dean did not recommend readmission, based on Castelino’s failure to accept responsibility for his actions and his history of behavioral issues, ranging from altercations and rude conduct on campus to complaints by female students that he was taking their photographs without permission. While suspended, Castelino was arrested for breach of peace, cultivation and sale of marijuana, operation of a drug factory, and possession of a hallucinogen.After being told that he would not be allowed to reapply, Castelino sued, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101, breach of contract, defamation, false advertising, invasion of privacy, and harassment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Rose-Hulman, noting Castelino’s “inscrutable” submissions and violations of court rules. Castelino fails to identify any facts establishing that Rose-Hulman or any professor failed to accommodate his learning disability. View "Castelino v. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology" on Justia Law

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Before the arrival of the pandemic in 2020 “Student A” was experiencing an exceedingly difficult eighth-grade year at Notre Dame of De Pere Catholic Middle School. Her classmate, “Student B,” repeatedly and inappropriately targeted Student A with sexually suggestive harassment beginning in 2019. Student A’s mother filed suit on behalf of herself and her daughter, alleging Title IX violations by the school's operator (GRACE), with breach of contract and negligence claims under Wisconsin state law.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Title IX claim. GRACE is subject to Title IX and had actual knowledge of the harassment but GRACE was not deliberately indifferent to the harassment. GRACE responded promptly and the complaint did not allege that the bullying persisted beyond January 2020, Student B was suspended for several days in December 2019. School officials offered to change Student A’s seat in class and facilitated an apology from Student B; the response was not “clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.” While it is possible that a school’s dress code, culture, and response to bullying could exclude a student from educational benefits on the basis of her sex, the Plaintiffs did not plead facts to support an inference that GRACE excluded Student A because of her sex. View "Jauquet v. Green Bay Area Catholic Education, Inc." on Justia Law

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More than two years after being denied tenure at Columbia College of Chicago, Monroe sued the College, citing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d, for being subject to race discrimination in a federally-funded program or activity. The statute does not specify a limitations period.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of the suit as untimely. Monroe argued that the correct period is the Illinois five-year catch-all limitations period for civil claims, while the College cited the two-year period for personal injuries. The court noted that other Circuits have emphasized that a Title VI claim, although aimed at the discriminatory use of federal funds, is one that ultimately seeks to vindicate personal rights, “closely analogous to [42 U.S.C.] sections 1983 and 1981.” Title VI specifically refers to discrimination against a “person” and should be governed by the limitations period that a state has specified for personal injury claims. View "Monroe v. Columbia College Chicago" on Justia Law

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The School terminated Pack's employment as a teacher after less than a year and published a press release about Pack on its website, allegedly criticizing Pack, which remains available on the School’s website. Pack sued the School. The Elkhart Truth ran an article later that month under the headline: “Fired Northridge teacher, an atheist, sues Middlebury Community Schools for religious discrimination.” Pack and the School settled that case. The School agreed to maintain a level of confidentiality and agreed to tell Pack’s prospective employers only limited information about him. The parties agreed that neither would disparage the other party. The settlement agreement did not mention the 2014 press release. Pack sued Elkhart Truth in state court, alleging defamation. School Superintendent Allen gave an affidavit supporting Truth’s motion to dismiss. Pack later recruited two acquaintances to call the School and pose as prospective employers. During one call, Allen said that Pack’s termination was “a matter of public record.” During another, Allen said Pack was terminated “for cause.”Pack sued for breach of the settlement agreement. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the School on all claims. The School had no contractual obligation to remove the pre-existing press release from its website, enjoys absolute privilege for the affidavit submitted in the Truth litigation, and did not disclose contractually forbidden information to “prospective employers” because the callers were not “prospective employers.” View "Pack v. Middlebury Community Schools" on Justia Law

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On September 28, 2018, Cheli, a computer system administrative assistant for the District, since 2014, was taken into a meeting with about 25 minutes’ notice. The District’s superintendent and Director of Computer Services terminated Cheli because a female student had alleged that Cheli had sexually harassed her three weeks prior. Cheli denied the allegations. The Board retroactively memorialized Cheli’s termination on October 9, 2018. Cheli never received notice of the Board meeting and did not receive written notice of the charges or the evidence against him but received a notice of termination via certified mail stating that “[t]he basis or grounds for discharge include incompetence.” That notice informed Cheli that he could request the written report. The District did not provide the report upon Cheli’s request.A collective bargaining agreement governed Cheli’s employment and provides for discipline for reasonable cause. An employee is entitled to a conference, attended by a representative of his choice, and a written explanation for the discipline. The District’s Policy Manual, however, contains a provision titled “Employment At-Will.”Cheli sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging the defendants violated his procedural due process rights. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. The collective bargaining agreement established that Cheli could not be terminated except “for reasonable cause,” which created a protected property interest for which he was entitled to due process View "Cheli v. Taylorville Community School District" on Justia Law