Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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Chester Bailey Jr. was employed by the Independent School District No. 69 of Canadian County Oklahoma (“the School District”) as Director of Athletics from 2009 to 2016. Throughout his career, Bailey received positive evaluations, indicating that he “exhibited strong leadership abilities,” “demonstrat[ed] a high degree of integrity,” and was “an asset to the district.” Bailey's nephew, Dustin Graham, pled guilty in 2014 to various state charges largely stemming from video recordings he made of women in the bathroom of his apartment without their consent. Graham also pled guilty to a single count of manufacturing child pornography based on a video he recorded of a minor. There was considerable media coverage of Graham’s arrest, trial, and sentencing. During Graham’s sentencing proceedings in 2014, Bailey wrote a letter to the sentencing judge on Graham’s behalf. The School District does not issue its employees official letterhead but it was common practice for individuals to produce their own letterhead using the school logo and their titles. Bailey had created such a letterhead and used a sheet to write to Graham’s sentencing judge. The letter’s header contained the logo for the school district, and gave the address of the Department of Athletics and Bailey’s job title. More than thirty individuals wrote letters to the sentencing judge on Graham’s behalf, including his local state representative. In 2017, the Superintendent of Schools for the School District received a letter expressing concern that Bailey used School District letterhead in support of an individual convicted of a child pornography offense. The Superintended decided to recommend Bailey's termination, citing loss of trust in Bailey's judgment, for using the school letterhead to request leniency for Graham. After a due process hearing before the Board of Education, the Board terminated Bailey's employment. Bailey filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the School District and Superintendent, alleging wrongful termination in retaliation for speech protected by the First Amendment. Concluding that Bailey’s speech did not relate to a matter of public concern, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the School District and the Superintendent. Bailey timely appealed. The issue this case presented on appeal to the Tenth Circuit was whether a letter written by a public employee, seeking a reduced sentence for his relative, speech on a matter of public concern for the purposes of a First Amendment "Garcetti/Pickering" inquiry. The Court determined it was, and reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgement favoring the School District. Nonetheless, the Court affirmed the district court’s grant of qualified immunity to school superintendent Sean McDaniel because the law was not previously clearly established on this issue. View "Bailey v. Independent School District No. 69" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Abigail Ross was allegedly raped by a fellow student at the University of Tulsa. The alleged rape led plaintiff to sue the university for money damages under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the University of Tulsa, and plaintiff appealed. On the first theory, the dispositive issue was whether a fact-finder could reasonably infer that an appropriate person at the university had actual notice of a substantial danger to others. On the second theory, there was a question of whether a reasonable fact-finder could characterize exclusion of prior reports of the aggressor's sexual harassment as "deliberate indifference." The Tenth Circuit concluded both theories failed as a matter of law: (1) campus-security officers were the only university employees who knew about reports that other victims had been raped, and a reasonable fact-finder could not infer that campus-security officers were appropriate persons for purposes of Title IX; (2) there was no evidence of deliberate indifference by the University of Tulsa. View "Ross v. University of Tulsa" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were families with children enrolled in the Douglas County School District RE-1 (“DCSD”) and the American Humanist Association (“AHA”). Plaintiffs filed suit challenging various DCSD practices as violations of the Establishment Clause and the Equal Access Act (“EAA”), contending DCSD engaged in a pattern and practice of promoting Christian fundraising efforts and permitting faculty participation in Christian student groups. The Tenth Circuit found most of the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that they or their children experienced “personal and unwelcome contact with government-sponsored religious” activities. Furthermore, they failed to demonstrate their case for municipal taxpayer standing because they could not show expenditure of municipal funds on the challenged activities. The sole exception is plaintiff Jane Zoe: she argued DCSD violated the Establishment Clause when school officials announced they were “partnering” with a Christian student group and solicited her and her son for donations to a “mission trip.” The district court held that because Zoe’s contacts with the challenged actions were not conspicuous or constant, she did not suffer an injury for standing purposes. The Tenth Circuit found "no support in our jurisprudence" for the contention that an injury must meet some threshold of pervasiveness to satisfy Article III. The Court therefore concluded Zoe had standing to seek retrospective relief. View "American Humanist Assoc. v. Douglas County School District" on Justia Law

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The district court did not err in its grant of summary judgment in favor of an employee's former employer and supervisors in her Title IX discrimination and retaliation suit. Dr. Tawny Hiatt was hired by Colorado Seminary, which owned and operated the University of Denver ("DU"). DU hired Dr. Hiatt to be a Staff Psychologist and Training Director for the Health and Counseling Center ("HCC"). Dr. Hiatt was responsible for supervising psychology students seeking their professional licensure. Dr. Hiatt was, in turn, supervised by Dr. Alan Kent, the Executive Director of the HCC, and Dr. Jacaranda Palmateer, the HHC’s Director of Counseling Services. Dr. Hiatt developed a romantic relationship with one of the fellows she supervised, and it came to the attention of her supervisors. Dr. Hiatt met with Dr. Kent and Dr. Palmateer. Dr. Kent presented Dr. Hiatt with three options: (1) resign; (2) be demoted and undergo six months of outside counseling about her supervisory style; or (3) remain in her position and allow Human Resources (“HR”) to handle the matter. Dr. Kent and Dr. Palmateer explained they were presenting these options because: (1) a “majority” of trainees refused to be supervised by Dr. Hiatt and she had lost “credibility and authority in their view”; (2) her conduct posed a “grey ethical issue,” and a Training Director needed to display “exemplary ethics, boundaries, and professionalism”; and (3) her “approach to therapy and supervision required a strict adherence to boundaries which weren’t demonstrated in this situation” and her response to the students’ reactions showed a “lack of personal responsibility.” Before Dr. Hiatt chose an option, her attorney sent DU a letter claiming DU’s request for Dr. Hiatt to leave her position as Training Director amounted to sex discrimination. Dr. Hiatt accepted the second option, demotion, with the attendant reduction in pay. The district court held Dr. Hiatt failed to show she was treated less favorably than similarly situated employees not in her protected class, which the court believed was “required” for Dr. Hiatt to state a prima facie case of sex discrimination. On the retaliation claims, the court reasoned that, even if she could state a prima facie case, the claims failed because she did not show DU’s reasons for any adverse employment actions were pretextual for retaliation. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed summary judgment. View "Hiatt v. Colorado Seminary" on Justia Law