Winslow v. Lemma
To establish a First Amendment retaliation claim, a plaintiff must prove that a causal connection exists between the plaintiff's protected activity and an adverse action. The plaintiff, Christina Winslow, was enrolled in a teacher certification course and wrote to Senator Christopher Dodd, complaining that Central Connecticut State University allegedly discriminated against graduate students who were female or older than average. Winslow complained that she did not receive grant money or appropriate field placements. The teacher certification course required that students maintain a minimum grade-point average of 2.7. Winslow received four Fs, which resulted in a 2.52 grade-point average. Winslow was not permitted to remain in the teacher certification course. She sued the dean, alleging First Amendment retaliation, in violation of 42 United States Code §1983, because she exercised her First Amendment rights when she wrote to Senator Dodd. Allegedly, a university chancellor and vice president knew about Winslow's correspondence. To establish a claim for First Amendment retaliation, a plaintiff must prove: 1.) she engaged in protected First Amendment speech; 2.) she suffered an adverse action; and 3.) a causal connection existed between the plaintiff's protected activity and the adverse action. The District Court found that although Winslow proved the First Amendment protected her speech, Winslow failed to produce enough evidence that the university dean knew about the protected speech and took adverse action, in retaliation. The District Court found that Winslow's complaint failed to adequately allege a causal connection between protected speech and the adverse action of dismissing Winslow. Winslow appealed, and the 2nd Circuit reviewed de novo. Winslow did not produce evidence that the university dean knew about Winslow's correspondence with the senator. Winslow did not dispute the rationale for her dismissal, because her grade-point average went below 2.7. A reasonable juror could not find that the university dean retaliated. "On de novo review, construing all permissible factual inferences in Winslow's favor," wrote the 2nd Circuit, "Winslow has not shown a causal connection between the protected speech and the adverse action of dismissing her from the University." The 2nd Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court, Hall, J.