Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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After the University terminated her employment as the head coach of the women's basketball team, plaintiff filed suit alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as state-law claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and invasion of privacy.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment as to the breach of contract and Title IX claims. The court concluded that judgment in favor of plaintiff on the breach of contract claim was proper where a reasonable jury could have concluded that plaintiff's management of funds did not give the University cause to terminate her employment. Furthermore, the University was not entitled to a new trial on plaintiff's breach of contract claim. In this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to provide the requested jury instruction and any error on the district court's part was harmless. In regard to the Title IX claim, the court concluded that denial of plaintiff's jury instruction was not an abuse of discretion or grounds for a new trial. However, the court reversed the district court's judgment as to the privacy claim and concluded that it failed as a matter of law. The court explained that the facts disclosed by the University were of legitimate concern to the public and the district court clearly erred in concluding otherwise. View "Taylor-Travis v. Jackson State University" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal without prejudice of T.B.'s discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. The court held, on the record before it, that T.B. seeks redress for denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and thus, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), he was required to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing this claim to the district court. Because he has failed to do so, his complaint was properly dismissed. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying T.B.'s motion to reconsider or request to amend. View "T. B. v. Northwest Independent School District" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of Speech First's First and Fourteenth Amendment challenges to several policies that intend to regulate speech at the University of Texas at Austin. Speech First sought a preliminary injunction against enforcement of these policies, but the district court dismissed the case based on lack of standing.The court held that Speech First has standing to seek a preliminary injunction. After determining that the case was not moot, the court held that the chilling of allegedly vague regulations, coupled with a range of potential penalties for violating the regulations, was, as other courts have held, sufficient "injury" to ensure that Speech First has a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy. In this case, Speech First's three student-members at the University have an intention to engage in a certain course of conduct, namely political speech; it is likely that the University's policies arguably proscribe speech of the sort that Speech First's members intend to make; and the existence of the University's policies, which the University plans to maintain as far as a federal court will allow it, suffices to establish that the threat of future enforcement, against those in a class whose speech is arguably restricted, is likely substantial. The court also held that the causation and redressability prongs are easily satisfied here. The court remanded for assessment of the preliminary injunction. View "Speech First, Inc. v. Fenves" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two brothers and their parents, filed suit seeking injunction relief under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act to prevent Mathis Independent School District from excluding them from extracurricular activities based on their religiously motivated hairstyles. After the district court granted preliminary injunctions to both brothers, the school district appealed.The Fifth Circuit upheld the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction as to one brother and vacated as to the other. In regard to one brother, C.G., the court held that the district court's conclusion that there was no time to reasonably provide 60-day pre-suit notice was plausible in light of the record as a whole. Therefore, C.G. satisfied the statutory exception to the Act's pre-suit notice requirement and thus the school district's governmental immunity is waived and there is no jurisdictional defect in C.G.'s claim. As to the other brother, D.G., the court held that his noncompliance with the Act's pre-suit notice requirement requires that the court vacate the district court's preliminary injunction as to him. View "Gonzales v. Mathis Independent School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former medical school professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, filed suit against various professors and school administrators under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that they violated his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights. Defendants voted to recommend firing plaintiff after conducting a hearing to address a student's sexual harassment claim against him.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity and rendered judgment in favor of defendants, holding that plaintiff's deprivations of due process were not clearly established constitutional rights. In this case, the court found no merit in plaintiff's claim that one of the defendants was not impartial because the defendant knew the accuser in a university proceeding, and concluded that this was not enough to establish a due process claim of bias. The court also held that, although the Committee should have heard the accuser's testimony, it was not clearly established at the time that, in university disciplinary hearings where the outcome depends on credibility, the Due Process Clause demands the opportunity to confront witnesses or some reasonable alternative. Therefore, the district court erred in denying defendants' motion for summary judgment. View "Walsh v. Hodge" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a civil rights action alleging that school administrators discriminated against him because he is an African American male. In this case, on the first day of high school, the Dean of Students asked teachers to send students with dyed hair to his office. All the students sent to the Dean's office were African American. The Dean and the Principal did not let plaintiff attend class that day because of his "two toned" blonde hairstyle. Although many students of all races, male and female, wore dyed hair to school, plaintiff was the only one disciplined for violating the school's hair policy during the school year. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiff's intentional discrimination claim was untimely, but his harassment claim was timely based on the continuing violation doctrine. The court reversed the dismissal of plaintiff's harassment claims under Title VI and Title IX against the Board, holding that plaintiff plausibly alleged that the Dean's harassment of plaintiff stemmed from a discriminatory view that African American males should not have two-toned blonde hair. Furthermore, the harassment may well have been so severe, pervasive, and offensive that it denied plaintiff an educational benefit, and it is plausible that the school board knew about the harassment, did little to ensure plaintiff was safe, and was therefore deliberately indifferent. However, the court held that plaintiff has not pleaded that the school board officials were deliberately indifferent to the Dean's retaliatory conduct. Therefore, the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's retaliation claim. View "Sewell v. Monroe City School Board" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the school district in an action brought by a student, alleging Title IX and constitutional claims stemming from her abuse by two school employees who were later criminally prosecuted.Under the Supreme Court's decision in Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District, a school district is not liable under Title IX for teacher-on-student harassment unless the district, among other things, had "actual notice" of the misconduct and was "deliberately indifferent" to it. The court held that the school peace officer is not an "appropriate person" for purposes of Title IX. The court also held that the school district did not have knowledge of prior acts of sexual harassment that provided actual knowledge of a risk of substantial harm under Title IX. Finally, the court held that the school district does not have municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. 1983. View "Doe v. Edgewood Independent School District" on Justia Law

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Upon panel rehearing, the Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion.After an administrative hearing officer found that the School District violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and awarded O.W. two years of private school tuition, the district court affirmed the award.The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the IDEA's text and structure, including its implementing regulations, compel a conclusion that the child find and expedited evaluation requirements are separate and independent such that a violation of the latter does not mean a violation of the former. To the extent the district court held otherwise, the court held that this was error. The court also held that the continued use of behavioral interventions was not a proactive step toward compliance with the school district's child find duties and thus a child find violation occurred. The court further held that the district court erred in finding the May 6, 2015, modification represented an actionable failure to implement O.W.'s individualized education program (IEP), but correctly concluded the May 18, 2015, modification rose to the level of an actionable violation. The court remanded the remedy question to the district court for reconsideration. View "Spring Branch Independent School District v. O.W." on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law
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This case arose from the tragic death of Maxwell Gruver after a fraternity hazing event at Louisiana State University (LSU). Maxwell's parents filed suit against LSU for violations of Title IX and state law, alleging that the university discriminated against male students by policing hazing in fraternities more leniently than hazing in sororities.In Pederson v. La. State Univ., 213 F.3d 858, 876 (5th Cir. 2000), the Fifth Circuit held that state recipients of Title IX funding waive their Eleventh Amendment immunity against suits alleging sex discrimination. The court held that the Supreme Court's opinion in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. 519 (2012), does not constitute a change in law when it comes to the analysis that Pederson and other cases used in finding waivers of sovereign immunity from states' acceptance of federal funds. Therefore, the court held that LSU has waived Eleventh Amendment immunity by accepting federal funds and affirmed the district court's denial of the university's motion to dismiss. View "Gruver v. Louisiana Board of Supervisors" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law
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Plaintiffs, low-income African-American women whose children attend public schools in Mississippi, filed suit against state officials, alleging that the current version of the Mississippi Constitution violates the "school rights and privileges" condition of the Mississippi Readmission Act. The district court held that the suit was barred by the Eleventh Amendment and dismissed.Although the Fifth Circuit agreed that a portion of the relief plaintiffs seek is prohibited by the Eleventh Amendment, the court held that the suit also partially sought relief that satisfied the Ex parte Young exception to sovereign immunity. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, and vacated and remanded in part. View "Williams v. Reeves" on Justia Law