The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

HR and the Courts

Each month, CUPA-HR General Counsel Ira Shepard provides an overview of several labor and employment law cases and regulatory actions with implications for the higher ed workplace. Here’s the latest from Ira.

Court of Appeals to Decide Whether a Non-Citizen Applicant for U.S. College Soccer Coaching Position Is Covered Under U.S. Anti-Discrimination Laws 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will review a federal trial court decision concluding that a non-citizen soccer coach applicant is not protected or covered by U.S. anti-discrimination statutes.

The federal trial court dismissed the case against American University on summary judgement concluding that a non-citizen applicant living outside the United States is not protected under Title VII or the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The plaintiff has appealed to the D.C. Circuit claiming that he was discriminated against because of his race, ethnicity and national origin when he did not receive the position he applied for (Nahkid v. American University ( DC Cir. No. 21-cv-7107, 3/11/22)). The plaintiff was a citizen of Trinidad Tobago and was living in Lebanon when he applied for the position. The plaintiff is a graduate of American University and played on the soccer team when he was a student.

Federal Court Jury Awards Professor $3 Million for Past and Future Emotional Distress, Pain and Suffering Resulting From Her Tenure Denial Based on Her Sex and Pregnancies

A federal district court jury in west Texas awarded an assistant engineering professor more than $3 million in damages as a result of finding that the University of Texas At Austin denied her tenure because of her sex and pregnancies. The professor was awarded $1 million for past emotional pain and suffering, $2 million for future emotional pain and suffering and $50,000 for lost back pay and benefits (Nikolova v. University of Texas at Austin (W, Dist Tex. No. 1:19-cv-00877, jury verdict 3/14/22)). Motions may be filed to have the court reduce the jury’s damage verdict.

Court of Appeals Dismisses Student Intern’s Title VII Discrimination Claims Due to No Employee/Employer Relationship

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third circuit (covering Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware) recently affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of a Temple University student intern’s race discrimination lawsuit against an opioid rehab facility, Prevention Point, where he was interning. The plaintiff was a student in Temple’s public health program and obtained the internship as part of the program to complete his degree. In an unpublished decision, the court of appeals concluded that the plaintiff did not have an employee/employer relationship with Prevention Point, so there was no Title VII jurisdiction (Payne v. Prevention Point Philadelphia (2022 BL 86265 Cir. No. 21-02173, unpublished, 3/15/22)).

The court pointed to evidence that documented that the goals of the internship related to the plaintiff’s course work at Temple and that other documents supported the fact that university staff coordinated with the facility’s staff to manage the internship.

New York State Court System Terminates 103 Unvaccinated Employees as Appeals Court Reinstates Presidential Vaccine Mandate Among Federal Workers

New York state court administrators disclosed that they have terminated 103 employees for failure to adhere to the court system’s vaccine mandate. They also reported that another 12 employees have retired or resigned after they failed to comply with the court’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements. All unvaccinated employees were given a warning last month that they faced possible termination for not complying with the vaccine mandate. Forty-one people in that group did comply and were not among those terminated for non-compliance.

Four judges also face further action for not complying as the court administrators do not have the power to terminate non-compliant judges. It appears that the court administrators will refer non-compliant judges to the judicial ethics independent watchdog for non-compliance and further potential action.

Union officials representing the terminated employees continue to fight the terminations. Federal courts have ruled against attempts to block enforcement of the court administration’s vaccine mandate.

Separately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a Texas federal district court judge’s order, blocking the presidential requirement for federal civilian employees to be vaccinated. The court of appeals threw out the challenge to the presidential order, requiring over two million federal civilian employees to be vaccinated or face termination (Feds for Medical Freedom v. Joseph Biden (5th Cir. No. 22-40043, 4/7/22).

States Beginning to Ban Employer Non-Disclosure Agreements

The state of Washington recently became the latest state to restrict an employer’s ability to request or demand a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) as a condition of employment or as part of a settlement agreement in discrimination or other employment-related cases.

The Washington state law takes effect on June 9, 2022. The law goes on step further than similar laws in California and New York, which ban NDAs. The Washington state law bans confidentiality agreements, in addition to NDAs, as part of workplace settlements related to allegations of illegal conduct.