Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Dr. Rachel Tudor sued her former employer, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, under Title VII, claiming discrimination on the basis of sex, retaliation, and a hostile work environment after Southeastern denied her tenure, denied her the opportunity to reapply for tenure, and ultimately terminated her from the university. A jury found in favor of Dr. Tudor on her discrimination and retaliation claims and awarded her damages. The district court then applied the Title VII statutory cap to reduce the jury’s award, denied Dr. Tudor reinstatement, and awarded front pay. Both Dr. Tudor and the University appealed: Southeastern challenged certain evidentiary rulings and the jury verdict; Dr. Tudor challenged several of the court’s post-verdict rulings, the district court’s denial of reinstatement, the calculation of front pay, and the application of the statutory damages cap. After review, the Tenth Circuit rejected Southeastern’s challenges. Regarding Dr. Tudor’s appeal however, the Court held that there was error both in denying reinstatement and in calculating front pay, although there was no error in applying the Title VII damages cap. Affirming in part and reversing in part, the Court remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings. View "Tudor, et al. v. Southeastern OK St. University, et al." on Justia Law

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Ronald Throupe, a Professor of Real Estate at the University of Denver ("DU"), brought an employment discrimination claim under Title IX against DU as well as several faculty and staff members. In 2013, Throupe was a candidate to serve as director of the Real Estate and Construction Management department. DU ultimately hired outside of the school, bringing in Barbara Jackson to lead the department. According to Throupe, upon Jackon’s arrival, she made clear in conversations with professors, she would force some of the tenured real estate faculty members to leave. In 2014, the University Title IX office was contacted multiple times about Throupe's relationship with a foreign graduate student. In an email to University officials, Jackson concluded "Ron believes he has done nothing but help this girl, but his behaviors have been totally unprofessional and inappropriate, his father/daughter views perverted, and his obsession out of control." The Title IX investigator and DU’s Manager of Equal Employment had a follow-up meeting with Throupe. Afterward, he sent an email to the Manager of Equal Employment formally reporting a hostile work environment. When Throupe later asked whether any actions had been taken in response to his report, the investigator told Throupe his claim “did not result in any formal investigation by the Office of Equal Employment.” However, the school issued him a written warning, admonishing him from further contact with the student. Throupe maintained that Jackson continued to harass him even after the written warning. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. Although Throupe had dedicated little space in his briefing to arguing any theory of sex discrimination, the district court identified two theories of sex discrimination in Throupe’s argument: that defendants created a hostile work environment and engaged in disparate treatment against him. But the court determined that Throupe had failed to establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination under either of these theories. Having dismissed Throupe’s sole federal claim, the district court declined to consider the remaining state law claims due to lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment, specifically concluding the district court did not err in concluding that Throupe failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether he was discriminated against on the basis of his sex. View "Throupe v. University of Denver" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Terri Baker appealed the dismissal of this putative class action for lack of standing. She sued on behalf of herself and her son, S.F.B., to challenge Kansas laws and school district policies that: (1) required children to be vaccinated to attend school and participate in child care programs; and (2) provided a religious exemption from these requirements. She claimed these immunization laws and policies violated various federal and state constitutional provisions and statutes. Baker argued she and S.F.B. had standing because the immunization requirements and religious exemptions injured them in two ways: (1) the District misapplied Kansas law when it granted a religious exemption for S.F.B. to attend preschool despite being unvaccinated - her fear that the District would revoke S.F.B.'s religious exemption was an injury in fact that established standing; and (2) Baker "would like the option" of placing S.F.B. in a non-accredited private school (i.e., home school), school programs, or licensed child care - she contended Kansas law inhibited her from exercising these options and caused an injury in fact because she would be unable to secure a religious exemption for S.F.B. if she tried. Finding no reversible error in the district court's dismissal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Baker v. USD 229 Blue Valley" on Justia Law

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Jane Doe appealed the dismissal of her Title IX claim against School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado (the District or DPS) for failure to state a claim. According to the complaint, a group of students began sexually harassing Ms. Doe after she was sexually assaulted by another student in March of her freshman year at East High School (EHS). She alleged that despite her numerous reports of the harassment to school personnel, as well as reports from teachers and a counselor, the school administration never investigated her complaints and little if anything was done to prevent the harassment from continuing. She stopped attending regularly scheduled classes about 14 months after the assault, and she transferred to a different school after completing her sophomore year. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded, finding Ms. Doe's complaint contained sufficient allegations to support an inference of deliberate indifference. View "Doe v. School District Number 1" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Board of Education of Gallup-McKinley County Schools (Gallup) successfully obtained summary judgment on certain Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) claims made by Mavis Yazzie in the administrative action below. Subsequently, Gallup sought attorneys’ fees from Yazzie and her counsel, the Native American Disability Law Center (NADLC). The question presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether the controlling provision of the New Mexico Administrative Code (NMAC) permitted Gallup to pursue attorneys’ fees within 30 days of the final decision relating to any party in the administrative action, or did the NMAC limit Gallup to seeking fees within 30 days of obtaining summary judgment, which Gallup failed to do. The Tenth Circuit concluded the plain meaning of the regulatory language permitted petitions for attorneys’ fees made within 30 days of the final decision in the administrative action regardless of whether that decision related to the party seeking fees. Accordingly, Gallup’s petition was timely. The Court therefore reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Board of Education of Gallup v. Native American Disability Law" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff John Doe asserted that the disciplinary proceeding brought against him by Defendants, the University of Denver (“DU”) along with several University employees, violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and under Title IX. The court granted summary judgment to Defendants on the Fourteenth Amendment claim because Plaintiff had failed to show that DU, a private school, was a state actor. The court also granted Defendants summary judgment on the Title IX claim, concluding that Plaintiff had adduced insufficient evidence of gender bias. Plaintiff enrolled as a freshman at DU in 2014. In October 2014, Plaintiff had a sexual encounter with Jane Doe, a female freshman, in his dorm room. Six months later, Jane’s boyfriend reported the encounter as an alleged sexual assault to a DU resident director. The resident director then spoke with Jane, who repeated the allegations and later filed with DU’s Office of Equal Opportunity a complaint of non-consensual sexual contact. Under DU’s policies, a student’s non-consensual sexual contact with another was a policy violation. Prohibited sexual contact includes contact by “coercion,” which the policy defined as “unreasonable and persistent pressure to compel another individual to initiate or continue sexual activity against an individual’s will,” such as “continued pressure” after “someone makes clear that they do not want to engage in sexual contact.” Two of the named defendants investigated the claims; the outcome of the investigation ultimately led to Plaintiff’s expulsion. The district court concluded that Plaintiff had failed to adduce sufficient evidence to raise a genuine dispute that gender was a motivating factor in DU’s decision to expel him. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Doe v. University of Denver" on Justia Law

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Amanda M. (“Parent”), the mother of Nathan M., a child with autism, challenged an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) developed with Harrison School District No. 2 (“the District”) that proposed removing Nathan from Alpine Autism Center (a private, autism-only facility) and placing him in Otero Elementary School (a public school). Nathan’s mother contended the school district did not comply with numerous procedural requirements in developing the IEP and that the IEP itself failed to offer Nathan a “free appropriate public education” as required by the Act. The Tenth Circuit determined that because the IEP at issue governed a schoolyear that has passed, and because the various IEP deficiencies alleged by Parent were not capable of repetition yet evading review, the case was moot. View "Nathan M. v. Harrison School District No. 2" on Justia Law

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Beginning in 2009, Plaintiff Rajesh Singh worked as an untenured professor in the School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) at Emporia State University (ESU). He was informed in February 2014 that his annual contract would not be renewed. He sued ESU and various administrators in their individual capacities, asserting several retaliation and discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Kansas Act Against Discrimination (KAAD); and the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants on every claim except one: a First Amendment retaliation claim under section 1983 against Provost David Cordle. Provost Cordle appealed the denial of summary judgment on the ground that he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court then certified as final under Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b) its order granting summary judgment on all other claims, and Plaintiff filed a cross-appeal, challenging the grant of summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims: (1) ESU and the individual Defendants discriminated against him by not renewing his contract; and (2) ESU and the individual Defendants retaliated against him for filing discrimination complaints with ESU’s human resources department and the Kansas Human Rights Commission (KHRC). The Tenth Circuit found the claims against ESU were brought under Title VII and the KAAD, and the claims against the individual Defendants were brought under section 1983. The Court reversed the district court’s denial of summary judgment for Provost Cordle and affirmed grants of summary judgment on the remaining claims. Cordle was entitled to qualified immunity because he could have reasonably believed that the speech for which he allegedly punished Plaintiff was not on a matter of public concern. As for the discrimination claims, the district court properly granted summary judgment because Plaintiff did not establish a genuine issue of fact that ESU’s given reason for his nonrenewal, that he was noncollegial, was pretextual. “Although Plaintiff contends that these discrimination claims survive under the cat’s-paw theory of liability, he does not provide adequate evidence that the allegedly biased supervisor - his school’s dean - proximately caused the ultimate nonrenewal decision.” The Court affirmed summary judgment on Plaintiff’s retaliation claims because he failed to present adequate evidence that the ESU employees who allegedly retaliated against him knew that he had filed formal discrimination complaints. View "Singh v. Cordle" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Harrison School District No. 2 asks us to reverse the district court’s ruling that it violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by failing to provide Plaintiff-Appellee Steven R.F. with a free appropriate public education. The Tenth Circuit concluded this case was moot “[b]ecause the status quo remained in effect from the time [the parents] challenged the school district’s attempt to modify the IEP, they de facto received the relief they originally sought . . . ; the modified IEP never took effect.” And there was no evidence that the asserted IDEA violation was likely to occur again. View "R.F. v. Harrison School District No. 2" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Tessa Farmer and Sara Weckhorst, two students at Kansas State University (“KSU”), alleged KSU, a recipient of federal educational funds, violated Title IX by being deliberately indifferent to reports it received of student-on-student sexual harassment which, in this case, involved rape. Plaintiffs alleged KSU violated Title IX’s ban against sex discrimination by being deliberately indifferent after Plaintiffs reported to KSU that other students had raped them, and that deliberate indifference caused Plaintiffs subsequently to be deprived of educational benefits that were available to other students. At the procedural posture presented by these interlocutory appeals, which addressed the denial of KSU’s motions to dismiss, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals accepted as true Plaintiffs’ factual allegations indicating that KSU was deliberately indifferent to their rape reports. Accepting that premise, the legal question presented to the Court was what harm Plaintiffs had to allege KSU’s deliberate indifference caused them. The Tenth Circuit concluded that, in this case, Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that KSU’s deliberate indifference made each of them “vulnerable to” sexual harassment by allowing their student-assailants (unchecked and without the school investigating) to continue attending KSU along with Plaintiffs. “This, as Plaintiffs adequately allege, caused them to withdraw from participating in the educational opportunities offered by KSU.” The Court affirmed the district court’s decision to deny KSU’s Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss Plaintiffs’ Title IX claims. View "Farmer v. Kansas State University" on Justia Law