Diverse Docket: Court Backs Goddard College in Bias Suit - Higher Education
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Diverse Docket: Court Backs Goddard College in Bias Suit

by Eric Freedman

A federal appeals court has declined to reinstate a national origin discrimination suit by a former faculty member of Japanese ancestry against Goddard College in Vermont.

Judy Hiramoto, whose was denied a five-year reappointment to the graduate faculty in fine arts, failed to provide enough evidence for the case to proceed, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

The unanimous three-judge panel said the college had provided a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its personnel decision.

According to the court, Goddard opted not to renew her appointment based on a 2011 comprehensive performance evaluation that incorporated her self-evaluation, reviews by two faculty peers and summaries of prior annual evaluations.

The comprehensive evaluation cited “sustained, unresolved concerns” about her “inability to perform the duties” of the position such as a “lack of engagement with her students’ work,” failure to provide appropriate feedback to students and an “unwillingness to engage in professional development.”

She sued the college under Vermont’s civil rights law, and a federal judge dismissed it without trial.

The appellate court rebuffed her argument that the 2011 evaluation had improperly considered a 2006 peer evaluation and student complaints from 2009.

It saw no evidence that a supervisor’s Armenian origin created an inference of hostility to Japanese Americans and found no ethnic slurs in comments made by the supervisor and peer reviewers.

Hiramoto also unsuccessfully challenged the college’s evaluation process on procedural grounds, including her inability to choose minority peer reviewers.

College of Wooster wins

The College of Wooster has won a breach of contract case filed by a male student who was expelled for violating its sexual harassment and nondiscrimination policy.

In dismissing the suit, U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi in Akron also rejected “John Doe’s” attempt to add a Title IX claim against the college.

Doe alleged that the college wrongfully accused and disciplined him for sexually assaulting a female student in a 2014 incident, the decision said. The woman reported the alleged incident to the college six months later but did not meet with its Title IX coordinator for another six months. Ultimately, the college notified Doe of the complaint and opened an investigation.

He was found guilty after a hearing at which he was not allowed to have an attorney.

Lioi found no basis for a Title IX claim, because assertions that the college became more stringent about campus sexual assault due to pressure from the U.S. Department of Education do not support “a plausible inference of gender discrimination.” She wrote, “Evidence that a university has endeavored to comply with federal guidance on Title IX cannot support a violation of Title IX.”

Doe’s argument that the college beached a contract by not following its student handbook procedures concerning written notice of charges, the timetable for investigations and fairness of investigations also fell short, Lioi held.

Nor did he show that the disciplinary panel was biased, she said, and colleges are not required to allow attorneys to represent accused students at disciplinary hearings.

Lioi also rejected related claims, including negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Suit thrown out

A Colombian American member of the U.S. Air Force has lost her race, gender, age and national origin suit against The University of the Incarnate Word that rejected her for its Master of Health Administration program.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin threw out the suit brought by Carmel Krowell, finding insufficient evidence to support her claims.

Krowell applied for the program in May 2014 and underwent an interview with the program director and a professor, according to the decision. At the interview, they discussed the program’s requirement for a 20-hour-a-week internship, and Krowell alleges that she told them she would find a way to meet that requirement despite her military commitment.

The university rejected her application, saying other applicants were better qualified.

Her suit asserted violations of Title VI and the Age Discrimination Act.

In his decision, Pitman said there was no evidence that applicants outside Krowell’s protected class received more favorable treatment than she had. He noted that Krowell had acknowledged having no information about their races, national origins, genders, ages or academic credentials.

Pitman also held that Krowell failed to comply with the procedural requirements for her age discrimination claim.

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