Appeals Court Reinstates Student's Retaliation Lawsuit Against Hofstra U.

February 21, 2013

A federal appeals court has reinstated part of a retaliation lawsuit brought by a former graduate student against Hofstra University.

The former student, Lauren E. Summa, alleged that university officials had retaliated against her by rescinding an offer for a graduate assistantship after she complained of harassment while working a previous job as team manager of the university's football program.

On Thursday a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a lower court's decision and remanded the case, Lauren E. Summa v. Hofstra University et al., ruling that Ms. Summa's retaliation claims should be heard by the lower court. The district court had also dismissed Ms. Summa's harassment claims; the appeals court affirmed that decision.

In 2006, when Ms. Summa worked as team manager at the New York university, she allegedly endured repeated harassment from several football players. The harassment was said to have included suggestive Facebook posts, verbal comments, and, in particular, lewd remarks directed toward her during a team bus ride.

She complained to athletic officials, who responded promptly, and later filed a written complaint with the university. The university responded in part by holding a training session on Hofstra's harassment policy for staff members in the athletic department.

A few months later, Ms. Summa learned that she would not be working again as team manager during the spring football season, as had previously been agreed upon, and that another student would fill the position. She then interviewed for and accepted another job on the campus, working as a graduate assistant in the university-relations department.

At the same time, she prepared a complaint against the university for the New York State Division of Human Rights, arguing that her replacement as team manager had constituted retaliation for her earlier harassment complaints.

Soon after, the university rescinded the graduate-assistantship offer. University officials said Ms. Summa had overstated her qualifications, misrepresented key information on her résumé, and cut corners on tallying her hours in previous university jobs. She then filed suit. In the lawsuit Ms. Summa said the withdrawal of the job offer had been retaliatory because the campus administrators with whom she interviewed knew of her pending complaints with the state.

The Second Circuit court did not rule on the merits of Ms. Summa's retaliation claims, but said that she had presented enough evidence that the district court must reconsider them. Barring additional appeals, the case will now go forward in the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.