Case Law Update: Silk v. Board of Trustees, Moraine Valley Community College

CASE LAW UPDATE

college-classroom-photoSilk v. Board of Trustees, Moraine Valley Community College

795 F.3d 678 (July 30, 2015)

Mr. Silk was an adjunct professor at the College and he began working there in 1986. As an adjunct professor he was non-tenured and an at-will employee. Mr. Silk’s typical teaching load included four courses during the fall and spring semester and two or three classes during the summer.

In March of 2010, the Dean of the Liberal Arts Department sent Mr. Silk an offer to teach two Sociology courses in the summer term and Silk accepted. In April, however, Silk had triple bypass surgery. Silk was on medical leave through the remainder of the spring semester and did not inform the College of an anticipated return to work date. Other faculty members had to cover Silk’s course load during his absence. During visits with the classes, the Dean discovered troubling information about Silk’s teaching including low student turn out, problems with course syllabi and the textbook listed was not the textbook used for the course. Silk’s summer courses were transferred to other instructors because the College did not receive a return to work date from him. Following his return from medical leave the College met with Mr. Silk and his union representative regarding problems with his course syllabi, course objectives and lack of contact information. Silk was only assigned two courses for the fall 2010 semester. In the fall of 2010, the College began to monitor more closely Silk’s classroom performance and they found many instances of poor instruction, but this was not shared with Silk. In December of 2010, several students filed complaints against Silk. Silk was informed that no further courses would be available to him in Liberal Arts.

Silk sued the College in February of 2012 alleging Age and Disability Discrimination and Retaliation. The trial court dismissed Mr. Silk’s case and he appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part the findings of the trial court. The Court found that there was a question of fact on the issue of whether the department chair said Mr. Silk’s course load should be reduced because they did not think he was physically capable of handling his work following his bypass surgery. The Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of Silk’s age discrimination claim finding that he had not articulated a claim for relief under the ADEA. Finally, the Court of Appeals found that Silk had presented an insufficient case of retaliation under the ADA and the ADEA. The case was remanded for further proceedings on the issue of whether the College reduced Silk’s fall course load as a result of a perceived impairment in violation of the ADA.

Patrick R. Sturdy is a partner in our Livonia office where he concentrates his practice on intellectual property, business law, education law, and employment and labor law. He may be reached at (734) 261-2400 or psturdy@cmda-law.com.