Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

6th Circuit Affirms Termination of Tenured Thomas Cooley Law Prof

BranamThe U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit yesterday affirmed the district court's ruling that the termination of Lynn S. Branham, former associate dean and tenured professor at Thomas M. Cooley Law School, was not improper.  Branham v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School, No. 10-2305 (6th Cir. Aug. 6, 2012):

Branham was a tenured law professor at Cooley at the time of her termination. She began teaching there in 1983, and primarily taught courses in criminal law. She suffered from seizures on occasion. She signed an employment contract dated December 21, 2005, for a twelve-month employment period beginning January 1, 2006. For the spring semester of 2006, Branham was assigned to teach classes in constitutional law and torts. Branham told Cooley Dean Donald LeDuc that she did not want to teach either class, citing health reasons and her preference for, and greater experience with, teaching criminal law-related courses. Despite her complaint to LeDuc, she taught the courses she was assigned through the spring semester of 2006. During the summer of 2006, Branham sold her house in Michigan, moved to Champaign, Illinois, and requested and was granted a leave of absence from Cooley. Though she was assigned to teach constitutional law after her return from leave, she refused to do so, instead asking to be assigned a criminal law class. LeDuc dismissed Branham from her position in December 2006.

Branham’s contract ... does not create an obligation of continuous employment: her contract expressly limits its term to a single year. While Branham may have had “tenure” in the sense that she had academic freedom, and that she and Cooley generally expected that they would enter a new employment contract in subsequent years, nothing in her employment contract, or the documents incorporated by reference therein, provides for a term of employment greater than one year. The district court did not err in concluding that Branham is due only the employment protection and process specified in her contract. ...

Branham’s tenure does not provide additional privileges or protections other than those specified in her employment contract. The process by which the faculty conference reviewed and concurred in LeDuc’s dismissal of Branham was sufficient to comply with Branham’s employment contract and federal and Michigan law.

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If you actually read the case and all of the particulars, there was a lot more to the equation than what was outlined in this article. Such as why, when you have a professor whose entire background is in the practice and teaching of criminal law, do you hire your wife, who practiced civil law, and have her teach those classes and take them away from the aforementioned experienced faculty member....who just so happened to vote against the hiring of the deans wife.

Posted by: anonymous | Sep 10, 2012 12:10:37 PM

It's remarkable that the professor was so audacious as to refuse to teach the classes assigned her. Individual professors are eccentric, tho; what's odder here is that the dean violated the terms of her contract by not arranging to have a faculty vote on her. I wonder if there's a backstory that she didn't want such a vote earlier--- it's embarassing to have one you're sure to lose.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Aug 10, 2012 1:07:50 PM