Short Circuit: A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions
Please enjoy the latest edition of Short Circuit, a weekly feature from the Institute for Justice.
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- D.C. gov’t worker alleges her numerous transfer requests were denied on the basis of sex—similarly situated male employees had their requests granted. D.C. Circuit (sitting en banc, with dissents): That is indeed something Title VII forbids, and we overrule our precedent saying plaintiffs also have to show they suffered “objectively tangible harm,” a high bar that does not appear in the statute.
- Juror 103: I work at a state hospital and I’m concerned that, if I vote guilty, I’ll get blowback at work from patients who are inmates. Prosecutor: We want to strike Black Juror 103 because, being Black, he is concerned that if he holds the Black defendant guilty, he’ll get blowback at work. R.I. Supreme Court: Sounds race-neutral to us. First Circuit: But not to us. Retry the defendant within 90 days or let him go.
- In the wake of the public outcry following the death of George Floyd, Connecticut legislators nullify provision of collective bargaining agreement that shielded state police officers’ disciplinary files from public disclosure. (The agreement expires this month.) A Contracts Clause violation? Second Circuit: States can impair contracts so long as it’s in the public interest, which this is. Denial of preliminary injunction affirmed.
- Visually impaired plaintiffs in New York file hundreds of substantively identical lawsuits, alleging that merchants’ gift cards violate the ADA because it’s impossible to distinguish the cards by touch. But they seem to be playing fast and loose with their allegations, which sometimes refer to nonexistent stores or claim they want to go to Banana Republic for its food. Second Circuit: These allegations are so implausible that the plaintiffs lack standing. Concurrence: Of course they have standing (they just lose on the merits).
- New York restaurant worker sues her former employer. “Not so fast,” says the employer, “You signed an arbitration agreement.” “I absolutely did not,” avers the worker. District Court: That’s just a self-serving denial, not evidence. Second Circuit: Ahem. It’s a SWORN self-serving denial, which is enough to raise a dispute over whether the worker actually signed the arbitration agreement.
- Allegation: Cornell physics professor is up for tenure when an aggrieved former student accuses him of rape years earlier. He’s subject to an investigation in which he is not fully informed of the allegations against him and the university refuses to interview witnesses he identifies. He is denied tenure. He successfully appeals the denial, but the dean overrides the appeal. A professor involved with the tenure review later tells him that “the faculty had considered [the] accusations to have been false and malicious, but also said that the faculty would take no action, saying, ‘Can you imagine what would happen if we took action against a blonde, female student? Twitter would explode and the entire department would be labeled bullies. We don’t want that.'” Second Circuit: We hold that Title IX allows faculty members to bring allegations of gender discrimination, and these allegations are more than sufficient.
- Pennsylvania will count your mail-in ballot if you write the wrong date on the envelope, but not
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