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After mediation fails, college segregation case returns to 4th Circuit

Litigation over segregation at Maryland’s colleges will return to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after six months of court-ordered mediation failed.

The 4th Circuit in January ordered the parties, the Maryland Higher Education Commission and a coalition representing the state’s historically black institutions, or HBIs, to meet with a mediator.

The court reasoned the case should be settled or the parties would “likely condemn themselves to endless years of acrimonious, divisive and expensive litigation that will only work to the detriment of higher education in Maryland.”

The mediation was extended by three months in April and ended July 29. Michael D. Jones, an attorney for the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Higher Education, confirmed Tuesday that the mediation had not been successful and that the case would return to the 4th Circuit for a ruling.

Jones is a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP in Washington.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Office of the Attorney General declined to comment on the case Tuesday.

The litigation dates to 2006. The coalition — which represents Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore — accused the state  higher education commission of “maintaining vestiges of the prior de jure system of segregation” by allowing traditionally white schools to duplicate programs that had been unique to the HBIs. The state maintained that all of its colleges were fully integrated and objected to proposed remedies that would spread programming among schools.

The parties were repeatedly referred to mediation by the trial court but could never reach an agreement.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake ruled on liability in 2013 and found unnecessary program duplication was the sole policy traceable to the de jure era. She held a separate trial on damages in 2017 after the parties failed to reach a settlement.

Blake issued a ruling on relief in November 2017 that included a permanent injunction requiring that a special master be appointed to oversee the creation of a remedial plan to address past unequal treatment of HBIs.

The case is Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education et al. v. Maryland Higher Education Commission et al., 17-2418.

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