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Kelley v. Iowa State Univ. of Sci. & Tech. - 311 F. Supp. 3d 1051 (S.D. Iowa 2018)


Standing is a jurisdictional prerequisite that a court must address before addressing merits questions. In its constitutional dimension, standing imports justiciability: whether the plaintiff has made out a case or controversy between himself and the defendant within the meaning of U.S. Const. art. III. This is the threshold question in every federal case, determining the power of the court to entertain the suit. To demonstrate constitutional standing, a plaintiff must show (1) an injury in fact that is (2) fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and (3) is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision in court. The plaintiff bears the burden to establish standing for each claim she asserts. Each element required to demonstrate standing must be supported in the same way as any other matter on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof, i.e., with the manner and degree of evidence required at the successive stages of the litigation.


Defendant Iowa State Univerity (ISU) is a public state university located in Ames, Iowa, and as such, is the recipient of federal financial assistance. Plaintiff Kelley was employed by ISU as ISU's equal opportunity director and Title IX coordinator from February 4, 2013, to October 14, 2015. Kelley's immediate supervisor was Miles Lackey, Associate Vice President and Chief of Staff of ISU, who reported directly to then-President Steven Leath. Kelley was ISU's first equal opportunity director, and upon her hiring, was told by Associate Vice President Lackey that he wanted her to be "'the face' of the Equal Opportunity office on campus." Kelley alleges that, during her tenure as Title IX coordinator, she became increasingly concerned with ISU's compliance with Title IX, yet "began to receive pushback from other administrators regarding Title IX compliance issues." According to Kelley, ISU bypassed her office by directing student Title IX complainants to the Dean of Students Office or to University Human Resources, entities she alleges had a vested interest in the outcome of the Title IX complaints. Kelley received a performance evaluation on February 25, 2014. During the meeting, Associate Vice President Lackey told Kelley "she needed to exhibit better ways to 'collaborate' and 'show leadership.'" On September 4, 2015, Kelley received her final performance evaluation. On October 14, 2015, five weeks and five days after the evaluation, Associate Vice President Lackey fired Kelley.

On October 12, 2017, Kelley filed the instant lawsuit in the District Court of Iowa for Polk County. Count I of the Complaint alleges that ISU committed discrimination in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. Kelley alleges that ISU engaged in the "usurpation, removal, and watering down of [her] Title IX Coordinator job duties, independence, influence, and authority," which in turn "place[d] employees and students at risk of sex based discrimination in violation of Title IX." Count II of the Complaint alleges that ISU retaliated against Kelley in violation of Title IX. Kelley alleges that ISU maintained "policies and practices . . . that functioned to deny equal education opportunities to students and employees based on gender," including denying these individuals "Title IX protections and rights." Count III of the Complaint alleges that ISU engaged in race and gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Kelley, "an African American female," alleges that "male and white colleagues were treated with more respect . . . and their ideas, concerns, and suggestions were given deference because they were permitted to exercise the authority of their positions on campus." 


Does terminated employee Kelley have standing to bring a personal claim against defendant public university for Title IX discrimination and retaliation?




Kelley argues that, on the face of her complaint, she has alleged sufficient facts to support the elements of constitutional standing—injury in fact, causation, and redressability. A separate question is whether Kelley has standing to bring a personal claim for Title IX discrimination. As noted, Kelley must show that she suffered an injury in fact, fairly traceable to the challenged actions of ISU, and that is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision of the Court. Kelley has alleged injuries in the form of her compromised role as Title IX coordinator and termination from ISU, which were fairly traceable to the decision-making of the ISU administration and Associate Vice President Lackey. Generally, both injunctive relief and damages are available in lawsuits brought pursuant to Title IX's private right of action, Fitzgerald, 555 U.S. at 255, and Kelley seeks both forms of relief against ISU. Kelley's Title IX discrimination claim can be redressed by a favorable decision of this Court. Kelley's allegations thus support all three elements of constitutional standing.


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