Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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Plaintiff filed suit against the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota alleging retaliation and sex discrimination under Title IX. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that the University violated Title IX by (1) retaliating against her for supporting a former coach in a sexual harassment investigation by not allowing her to redshirt; and (2) discriminating against her on the basis of sex.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the University's motion to dismiss because plaintiff did not have an actionable claim for retaliation under Title IX and she failed to show that she was treated differently because of her sex. In this case, plaintiff failed to allege that she engaged in a protected activity, and no part of Title IX designates participation in a sexual harassment investigation on the side of the accused as protected activity. In regard to plaintiff's claim that she was discriminated against on the basis of her sex when she was denied the right to redshirt, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts to support a claim of sex discrimination in violation of Title IX. View "Du Bois v. The Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota" on Justia Law

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After the school districts sought modification of existing desegregation consent decrees to allow their exemption from Arkansas's Public School Choice Act, Ark. Code. Ann. 6–18–1906, the district court granted the motions and modified the consent decrees to explicitly limit the transfer of students between school districts. The Department appealed, alleging that the modification imposed an impermissible interdistrict remedy.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that there was a substantial change in Arkansas law after the consent decrees were enacted and the district court's modification was not an impermissible interdistrict remedy. The court explained that the district court did not abuse its discretion in considering and crediting evidence of white flight when it determined that a substantial change in circumstances had occurred warranting modification of the consent decrees. Furthermore, based on the court's review of the record and the large degree of deference given to the district court, the court could not find that the district court abused its discretion in modifying the consent decrees. View "United States v. Arkansas Department of Education" on Justia Law

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Maras's application for tenure as an associate professor at the University of Missouri Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology was denied. She filed suit, claiming discrimination on the basis of sex, citing the Missouri Human Rights Act and Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1), and violations of the implied covenants of good faith and fair dealing in her employment contract. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Describing the university's tenure-review process as “elaborate and painstaking,” the court noted that numerous people over four years expressed concerns about Maras's record of scholarship. Many throughout the application process, including people outside the university, expressed similar concerns. That widely shared opinion strongly supports the university's proffered reason for tenure denial. The comparators Maras identified are not similarly situated in all relevant respects to Maras; they did not share the same ultimate decision-maker. One comparator was in a completely different department. Each of them had several positive recommendations at many steps in the tenure process, while Maras did not; it is not obvious that their records of scholarship were no better than Maras's. Maras did not show "that the circumstances permit a reasonable inference of discriminatory animus." View "Maras v. Curators of the University of Missouri" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the District and three individual school officials in an action brought by a student, alleging claims of sexual abuse and harassment by a teacher and coach, Johnna Feazell.Where, as here, a complaint involves allegations against school officials brought under both Title IX and 42 U.S.C. 1983, this court has held that an official in these circumstances must have actual notice of the alleged sexual harassment or sexual abuse by a school employee to meet the standard for liability. In this case, a searching review of the summary judgment record reveals no evidence to indicate school officials had actual notice of sexual harassment or abuse by Feazell prior to the events at issue. Rather, when plaintiff's mother met with the school principal with the cell phone containing text messages evidencing a sexual relationship between plaintiff and Feazell, school officials took immediate action by contacting law enforcement and placing Feazell on administrative leave. Therefore, the district court did not improperly weigh the evidence and the summary judgment record established that no genuine dispute exists as to whether the District or any school official had actual notice of sexual abuse or harassment prior to October 13, 2014. View "KC v. Mayo" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was found to have violated the University's policies prohibiting sexual harassment and stalking on the basis of sex, and was suspended for two years, he filed suit against the Curators of the University and four individual Title IX investigators.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's motion to compel and the district court's discovery ruling did not prevent plaintiff from adequately opposing defendants' motion for summary judgment; summary judgment on the Title VI claim was appropriate because plaintiff failed to present evidence that his proffered comparators, including the two white students mentioned, were graduate students and thus similarly situated to him in all relevant respects; summary judgment on plaintiff's void for vagueness claim was appropriate because the University's policies provide adequate notice of what conduct is prohibited and the individual defendant's inability to agree on the exact scope of prohibited conduct or the definition of words in the policies does not mean the policies are subject to arbitrary enforcement; summary judgment on the First Amendment retaliation claim was appropriate in its entirety; dismissal of the substantial overbreadth claim was appropriate where plaintiff failed to plausibly allege that the University's policies against sexual harassment and stalking have a real and substantial effect on protected speech; dismissal of the sex discrimination under Title IX claim was appropriate where the complaint fails to plausibly allege that the investigation reached an outcome against the weight of the evidence or allege any additional facts suggesting bias based on his sex; and dismissal of the discrimination claims under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) were appropriate where plaintiff failed to state a plausible claim for sex discrimination for reasons similar to his Title IX claims. Finally, although the court believed that it was error for the district court to dismiss the state law race discrimination claim, the error was harmless in light of the court's conclusion. View "Rowles v. Curators of the University of Missouri" on Justia Law

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After Drake University and its Board of Trustees expelled plaintiff for sexually assaulting a female student, plaintiff filed suit for violations of Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities (ADA), as well as claims related to breach of contract. On appeal, plaintiff challenges the district court's grant of summary judgment on his Title IX claim based on an erroneous outcome theory, his ADA claim, and his breach of implied duty of good faith and promissory estoppel claims.After determining that the court had jurisdiction to review plaintiff's appeal, the court held that there is no genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether being male was a motivating factor for plaintiff's expulsion from Drake; Drake's Code of Student Conduct and Policy on Sexual and Interpersonal Misconduct processes, although not equivalent to those provided in nonacademic settings, are not reflective of gender bias, either in statement or in application; the hearing panel did not reach decisions contrary to the weight of the evidence; and the pressure that was being put on Drake to investigate and adjudicate Title IX complaints by females against males does not appear to have approached that described in Doe v. University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, 974 F.3d at 865, nor was it combined with the clearly irregular investigative and adjudicative processes that were found to support a prima facie claim of sex discrimination in Doe v. Columbia University, 831 F.3d at 56-57, and in Menaker v. Hofstra University, 935 F.3d 20, 35 (2nd Cir. 2019).The court rejected plaintiff's ADA claim and affirmed the district court's ruling that no genuine issue of material fact existed regarding plaintiff's need for accommodations. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on plaintiff's claims for breach of implied duty of good faith and promissory estoppel. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Drake and remanded with instructions to dismiss with prejudice the claims that had previously been dismissed without prejudice by stipulation. View "Rossley v. Drake University" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former student at the University, filed suit against the Board of Trustees and several university officials, claiming that they violated his rights in a disciplinary action against him. This case stemmed from another University student's accusation against plaintiff for sexual assault. After the initial decision by the Title IX coordinator finding no misconduct, the other student herself publicly criticized the University's decision. Plaintiff alleges, among other things, that the University was under pressure and fearful of sanctions from the Office for Civil Rights, so it took steps harmful to him to alleviate and lessen the scrutiny that it was attracting from the other student's media blitz and protests. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss.The Eighth Circuit held that the complaint stated a claim under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 that is plausible on its face. First, the allegations in the complaint support an inference that the hearing panel reached an outcome that was against the substantial weight of the evidence. Second, the panel's chosen sanctions are allegedly contrary to the ordinary disposition in cases of sexual assault by force. Third, plaintiff alleged that the University was under pressure on multiple fronts to find males responsible for sexual assault. The court held that these circumstances, taken together, are sufficient to support a plausible claim that the University discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of sex. However, the court held that plaintiff's due process claims against the University officials in their official and individual capacities were properly dismissed. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Doe v. University of Arkansas - Fayetteville" on Justia Law

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A.C.'s Westside eighth-grade class watched a video about athletes kneeling during the national anthem. During a “critical thinking” discussion, the teacher insisted that A.C. share her ideas. A.C. stated that “kneeling was disrespectful to law enforcement and military," and questioned that violence could have stemmed from music lyrics including "F-the Police, and the use of the N-word.’” A.C. stayed home the next day due to illness. The teacher allegedly told students that A.C. was a racist and was on suspension. A.C. was subjected to bullying. After meeting with school officials, her parents removed A.C. from school. A.C. attempted suicide. Her parents contacted eight lawyers. but were unable to retain one.On behalf of A.C., they filed the pro se 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit. The court ruled that they could not serve pro se as A.C.’s representatives and lacked standing to bring individual claims that only derive from alleged violations of their child’s constitutional rights. They contacted 27 more lawyers and organizations. They refiled, requesting court-appointed counsel. The district court refused, reasoning that the claims were “not likely to be of substance,” and that A.C. lacked standing for declaratory and injunctive relief, as she was no longer a student at Westside. The Eighth Circuit affirmed that the parents may not represent A.C. pro se but remanded with directions to appoint counsel. The court did not err in considering the potential merit of the claims and other relevant factors in deciding whether to request counsel but the allegation of First Amendment retaliation is a serious claim on which the plaintiffs and the court would benefit from the assistance of counsel. View "Crozier v. Westside Community School District" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants in an action brought by a student and Turning Point USA, alleging that defendants violated plaintiffs' rights under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Plaintiffs aimed to recruit students for a local Turning Point chapter by setting up a table at the Union Patio. University administrators then asked that the student take down her table.The court held that the patio is a limited designated public forum in which speech restrictions must be reasonable and viewpoint neutral. Furthermore, the Tabling Policy was not viewpoint-discriminatory. The court held that the Tabling Policy, as applied to the student, is unconstitutional because the distinction between registered student organizations and individual students is not reasonable, when the sole justification offered for the distinction provides no meaningful reason for differentiating the two. Therefore, plaintiffs have put forward sufficient facts to show a constitutional violation. However, the court held that defendants were properly granted qualified immunity because the student's First Amendment right to access a limited public forum, which she was unjustifiably denied, was not clearly established at the time. View "Turning Point USA at Arkansas State University v. Rhodes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit asserting Title IX violations and various state law claims against the University after it began disciplinary proceedings that resulted in plaintiff's suspension. The disciplinary proceedings arose from a fellow student's accusation against plaintiff of sexual misconduct.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the University. The court held that, while the district court erred by rejecting Rollins v. Cardinal Stritch Univ., 626 N.W.2d 464, 470 (Minn. Ct. App. 2001), and formulating a reasonable care standard that no Minnesota court has adopted, even applying the more permissive reasonable care standard, no reasonable jury would find the investigators' actions showed bias against plaintiff. In this case, no reasonable jury would find bias because the investigators did question the accuser about inconsistencies in her story and found her to be credible. Furthermore, no implication of bias arises by asking the accuser to preserve evidence or by offering her mental health services. View "Doe v. University of St. Thomas" on Justia Law