Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Rights
Khan v. Yale Univ.
Plaintiff appealed from a partial final judgment of the district court dismissing his Connecticut state law claims for defamation and tortious interference with contract against Defendant, who accused Plaintiff of sexual assault in 2015 while the two were students at Yale University. Plaintiff argued that the district court erred in finding (1) Defendant to enjoy absolute quasi-judicial immunity for statements made at the 2018 Yale disciplinary hearing that resulted in Plaintiff’s expulsion from the university and (2) Plaintiff’s tortious interference claims based on Defendant’s original 2015 accusations to be untimely. On preliminary review, the Second Circuit was unable to determine whether Connecticut would recognize the Yale disciplinary hearing at issue as a quasi-judicial proceeding supporting absolute immunity in this case. Accordingly, the court certified questions pertinent to that determination to the Connecticut Supreme Court. That court responded that absolute immunity does not apply in this case because Yale’s disciplinary hearing was not a quasi-judicial proceeding in that it lacked procedural safeguards associated with judicial proceedings. In response, The Second Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. The court explained that while the Connecticut Supreme Court recognized the possibility for participants in such a hearing to be shielded by qualified immunity, the Connecticut Supreme Court concluded that Defendant is not presently entitled to dismissal on that ground because Plaintiff’s complaint sufficiently pleads the malice necessary to defeat such immunity. With this guidance as to Connecticut law, the court concluded on this appeal that Plaintiff’s complaint should not have been dismissed against Defendant except as to his tortious interference claim based on 2015 statements, which is untimely. View "Khan v. Yale Univ." on Justia Law
Abdallah v. Mesa Air Group
On a Mesa Airlines flight, a flight attendant grew concerned about two passengers. She alerted the pilot, who, despite the reassurance of security officers, delayed takeoff until the flight was canceled. The passengers were told the delay was for maintenance issues, and all passengers, including the two in question, were rebooked onto a new flight. After learning the real reason behind the cancellation, Passenger Plaintiffs sued Mesa under 42 U.S.C. Section 1981. The airline countered that it had immunity under 49 U.S.C. Section 44902(b). The district court granted Mesa’s motion for summary judgment. At issue is whether such conduct constitutes disparate treatment under Section 1981, whether a Section 1981 claim can exist without a “breach” of contract, and whether Section 44902(b) grants immunity to airlines for allegedly discriminatory decisions. The Fifth Circuit reversed. The court explained that the right to be free from discrimination in “the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms and conditions” means that one has the right to be free from discrimination in the discretionary “benefits, privileges, terms and conditions” of a contract, too. Defendants cannot claim that flying at the originally scheduled time is not a “benefit” of the contract at all. Further, the court explained that a hand wave, refusing to leave one’s assigned seat, boarding late, sleeping, and using the restroom are far from occurrences so obviously suspicious that no one could conclude that race was not a but-for factor for the airline’s actions. The court wrote that because “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for” Plaintiffs, the dispute is genuine. View "Abdallah v. Mesa Air Group" on Justia Law
Phyllis Edwards v. Dothan City Schools, et al
Plaintiff was hired as the Superintendent of Dothan City Schools in Dothan, Alabama. The employment contract stated Plaintiff could only be terminated for cause. Furthermore, the contract stated that the termination would not be effective until the Board provided Plaintiff with a statement of the cause for termination and allowed her an opportunity for a hearing. Lastly, the employment contract provided that Plainitff could resign with or without cause as long as she gave at least 120 days notice in writing of her resignation to the Board. Six days after Plaintiff’s intent to resign was sent, Plaintiff alleges that the Board voted to terminate Plaintiff’s contract. She brought claims for deprivation of due process and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, conspiracy to violate civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1985, and breach of contract. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims with prejudice. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of Plaintiff’s due process claims and affirmed the district court’s denial of Plaintiff’s conspiracy and breach of contract claims. The court explained that instead of construing all ambiguities in Plaintiff’s favor, the district court used the minutes to recharacterize the allegations within Plaintiff’s complaint. When taking the factual allegations in Plaintiff’s complaint as true, there is a plausible claim for relief. In paragraph 18 of the complaint, Plaintiff’s classifies her communication as an “intent” to resign, not an actual resignation. The court wrote that the district court erred by ignoring that Plaintiff had a plausible claim to relief and not drawing reasonable inferences in her favor. View "Phyllis Edwards v. Dothan City Schools, et al" on Justia Law
Elijah Wells v. Creighton Preparatory School
Creighton Preparatory School expelled Plaintiff after he made lewd remarks about a teacher. Plaintiff sued Creighton under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 on the theory that the school had discriminated against him by failing to perform an “adequate and impartial investigation.” The district court granted Creighton’s motion to dismiss. It first dismissed the Title IX claim because Plaintiff had failed to “allege [that] his sex played any part in the disciplinary process at all.” Then, with the federal question gone, it declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s breach-of-contract claim.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Plaintiff does not allege that Creighton faced external pressure to punish male students, much less gave in by expelling him. The court reasoned that without an allegation of that kind, the complaint fails to plausibly allege the sort of “causal connection between the flawed outcome and gender bias” required to make an erroneous outcome theory work.Further, the court wrote that treating men and women differently can support an inference of sex discrimination, but it requires identifying a similarly situated member of the opposite sex who has been “treated more favorably.” For Plaintiff, he had to find “a female accused of sexual harassment” who received better treatment. There are no female students at Creighton, an all-boys school, let alone any who have faced sexual-misconduct allegations. The court explained that to the extent that Plaintiff argues that believing them over him raises an inference of discrimination, there is nothing alleged that the school did so because of his sex. View "Elijah Wells v. Creighton Preparatory School" on Justia Law
Tilsen v. Benson
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court dissolving Plaintiff's marriage to Defendant, holding that Plaintiff was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error.At issue in this case was the extent to which a Connecticut court may enforce the terms of a "ketubah," a contract governing marriage under Jewish law. The trial court in this case denied Plaintiff's motion to enforce the terms of the parties' ketubah as a prenuptial agreement on the ground that doing so would be a violation of the First Amendment to the United States constitution. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court properly denied Plaintiff's motion to enforce the ketubah; and (2) the trial court's alimony order, considered in light of Plaintiff's net earning capacity, was not an abuse of discretion. View "Tilsen v. Benson" on Justia Law
Isaac Payne v. Savannah College of Art and Design, Inc.
Plaintiff sued The Savannah College of Art and Design, Inc. (“SCAD”) for race discrimination and retaliation after he was fired from his job as Head Fishing Coach. As part of his employment onboarding, however, Plaintiff signed a document agreeing to arbitrate—not litigate—all legal disputes that arose between him and SCAD. Accordingly, SCAD moved to dismiss and compel arbitration. The district court, approving and adopting the magistrate judge’s Report and Recommendation (“R & R”), granted SCAD’s motion. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the district court erred by ignoring that his agreement with SCAD was unconscionable and that SCAD waived its right to arbitrate. He also argued that the district court abused its discretion in rejecting his early discovery request. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s order granting SCAD’s motion to dismiss and compel arbitration. The court concluded that the Plaintiff’s arbitration agreement is neither substantively nor procedurally unconscionable. Further, the court found that SCAD did not waive its right to enforce arbitration and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in overruling Plaintiff’s request for early discovery. In short, the court concluded that Plaintiff is bound by his agreement to arbitrate his legal claims against SCAD. View "Isaac Payne v. Savannah College of Art and Design, Inc." on Justia Law
Klauber v. VMware, Inc.
The First Circuit affirmed the district court's order entering summary judgment in favor of Defendant with respect to Plaintiff's assertion that he was wrongfully deprived of thousands of dollars in commissions he alleged he was due, holding that there was no error.After he resigned, Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant, his former employer, asserting claims for nonpayment of wages under the Act, breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and quantum meruit. Defendant successfully removed the action to federal district court, which granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in granting in part Defendant's motion to strike certain portions of his response to the summary judgment motion; and (2) did not err in granting summary judgment against Plaintiff on his claims. View "Klauber v. VMware, Inc." on Justia Law
Abdallah v. Mesa Air Group
On a Mesa Airlines flight from Birmingham to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, a flight attendant grew concerned about two passengers, Plaintiffs. She alerted the pilot, who, despite the reassurance of security officers, delayed takeoff until the flight was canceled. The passengers were told the delay was for maintenance issues, and all passengers, including the two in question (Plaintiffs), were rebooked onto a new flight that reached DFW. After learning the real reason behind the cancellation, Plaintiffs sued Mesa under 42 U.S.C. Section 1981. The airline countered that it had immunity under 49 U.S.C. Section 44902(b) and 49 U.S.C. Section 44941(a). Given the unusual facts that all passengers had their flight canceled, the primary issue on appeal whether such conduct constitutes disparate treatment under Section 1981, whether a Section 1981 claim can exist without a “breach” of contract, and whether Section 44902(b) grants immunity to airlines for allegedly discriminatory decisions, thereby negating Section 1981’s application against airlines in this context. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment. The court held that Section 1981 prohibits discrimination in contracting. Section 44902(b) provides immunity to airlines in their decision to remove passengers they feel are “inimical to safety.” There is a straightforward way to reconcile these two statutes: If a passenger’s protected status is the but-for cause of the airline’s decision to remove them (such that the passenger has made out a Section 1981 claim), then Section 44902(b) does not grant immunity to the airline because the decision is not based on a fear that the passenger was inimical to safety. View "Abdallah v. Mesa Air Group" on Justia Law
John Doe v. Rollins College
Following an investigation, Rollins determined that Plaintiff- John Doe violated its sexual misconduct policy. Doe was able to graduate and receive his undergraduate degree but was not allowed to participate in commencement/graduation ceremonies. Rollins imposed a sanction of dismissal, resulting in permanent separation of Doe without the opportunity for readmission; privilege restrictions, including a prohibition on participating in alumni reunion events on or off campus; and a contact restriction as to Roe. Doe sued Rollins in federal court, asserting two claims under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. Section 1681—one for selective enforcement and one for erroneous outcome—and a third claim under Florida law for breach of contract. Following discovery, the district court excluded the opinions proffered by Doe’s expert as to Rollins’ purported gender bias. Then, on cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court (a) entered summary judgment in favor of Rollins on the Title IX claims and (b) entered partial summary judgment in favor of Doe on the breach of contract claim. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in precluding Doe’s expert from presenting opinions about Rollins’ purported gender bias and that it correctly granted summary judgment in favor of Rollins on Doe’s two Title IX claims. On the breach of contract claim, the court wrote that it cannot review Doe’s challenge to the district court’s partial denial of summary judgment because materiality is not a purely legal issue under Florida law and was later resolved by the jury. View "John Doe v. Rollins College" on Justia Law
Torri Houston v. St. Luke’s Health System, Inc.
Plaintiff, a former employee, sued on behalf of herself and similarly situated employees, claiming that St. Luke’s violated the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (“FLSA”) overtime provisions by failing to fully compensate employees for work performed. She also brought an unjust-enrichment claim under state law. The district court certified two classes with different lookback periods: (1) an FLSA collective comprised of employees who worked for St. Luke’s between September 2016 and September 2018, 1 and (2) an unjust-enrichment class comprised of all employees who worked for St. Luke’s in Missouri between April 2012 and September 2018. Houston also asserted individual claims, one under the Missouri Minimum Wage Law, and one for breach of her employment contract. The district court granted summary judgment to St. Luke’s on all claims. The Eighth Circuit vacated and remanded. The court explained that Plaintiff has raised a genuine dispute that the rounding policy does not average out over time. The court explained that no matter how one slices the data, most employees and the employees as a whole fared worse under the rounding policy than had they been paid according to their exact time worked. Here, the rounding policy did both. It resulted in lost time for nearly two-thirds of employees, and those employees lost more time than was gained by their coworkers who benefited from rounding. The court concluded that the employees have raised a genuine dispute that the rounding policy, as applied, did not average out over time. The district court, therefore, erred in granting summary judgment on the FLSA and Missouri wage claims. View "Torri Houston v. St. Luke's Health System, Inc." on Justia Law