Appel v. Spiridon
Allegations that a university official required a tenured professor to undergo a fitness-for-duty exam may be insufficient to prove that the defendant university official sought to review the psychiatric evaluations himself, and the defendant may be entitled to qualified immunity on the professor's 14th Amendment, right-to-privacy claim. Allegedly, the plaintiff, an art professor at Western Connecticut State University, testified at a hearing before the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, on behalf of a professor who alleged race discrimination. A few months later, other professors signed a petition, objecting to the plaintiff's allegedly "unprofessional," "disruptive," and "accusatory" conduct. A special assessment committee's plan for remediation included a psychological evaluation and therapy. Dean of Human Resources Charles Spiridon asked the plaintiff to take a fitness-for-duty psychiatric evaluation at the Institute for Living. The plaintiff refused and sued Spiridon and other defendants, alleging that they retaliated, in violation of Title VII, because she provided testimony to the CHRO. Individual defendants moved for summary judgment and argued that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The District Court, Underhill, J., denied the defendants' motion, and they filed an interlocutory appeal to the 2nd Circuit. "[A] question of fact exists," wrote the 2nd Circuit, "as to whether the defendants' treatment of [the plaintiff] after she filed her 2006 lawsuit, including the manner in which the remediation plan was implemented and enforced, was motivated by legitimate reasons or impermissible retaliation." The 2nd Circuit affirmed the District Court's denial of qualified immunity to the defendants on the plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim. The plaintiff also argued that individual defendants requested that she disclose medical records, in connection with a psychiatric examination. Ruling on the plaintiff's allegation that individual defendants violated her right to privacy, the 2nd Circuit found that individual defendants merely requested that the plaintiff submit to a fitness-for-duty evaluation. The plaintiff failed to prove that the defendants sought to review psychiatric evaluations themselves. The 2nd Circuit reversed the District Court's denial of qualified immunity on the plaintiff's 14th Amendment, right-to-privacy claim. John Williams represented the plaintiff. Beth Margulies and George Jepsen represented the defendants.