Court Upholds Dismissal Of Student Because University Properly Followed Internal Policies And Procedures

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: Jan 30, 2023

In 2019, Lavanya Vaish (Plaintiff), an undergraduate student at the University of California, Davis (University), was dismissed from the University after a judicial officer in the Office of Student Support and Judicial Affairs (OSSJA) found that she had committed multiple instances of plagiarism. During the first plagiarism instance, OSSJA gave Plaintiff a warning and told her that it would remain on file until she graduated. After the second instance, Plaintiff signed a “Disciplinary Agreement” acknowledging that her behavior constituted academic dishonesty and violated University policy. After the third plagiarism instance, the OSSJA and Plaintiff entered into a deferred separation agreement. The deferred separation agreement stated that Plaintiff would be giving up the right to a formal hearing. However, Plaintiff would still have the right to meet with a judicial officer who would review the evidence, and if she was found in violation again, she would likely be suspended from the University.

At the time Plaintiff entered into the deferred separation agreement, OOSSJA received another report of academic misconduct that Plaintiff had been plagiarizing. The OSSJA judicial officer who investigated the report determined the evidence supported the conclusion that Plaintiff’s behavior violated the University’s code of academic conduct, and dismissed Plaintiff from the University. The judicial officer explained that the University had provided numerous opportunities for Plaintiff to understand and comply with the expectations regarding academic honesty. Plaintiff appealed the decision to the Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, who denied her appeal. Plaintiff then sued the University claiming that the University denied her fair hearing rights. The trial court denied her petition. Plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, Plaintiff challenged the severity of the sanction imposed on her, arguing that dismissal is punishment too harsh for her misconduct. The California Court of Appeal for the Second District concluded the University did not violate Plaintiff’s due process rights because it complied with its own policies and procedures, and under the deferred separation agreement, Plaintiff was not entitled to a formal fact-finding hearing because she waived the right to a formal hearing. The Court reviewed the University’s choice of disciplinary sanction on an abuse of discretion standard and found that the University was well within the scope of its discretion to dismiss Plaintiff due to her extensive and repeated history of academic misconduct.

Vaish v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal. (Cal. App. 2022) WL 15236043.

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