Paul L. Caron

Monday, April 24, 2017

Jennifer Bard Sues University Of Cincinnati In Federal Court, Seeks Reinstatement As Law School Dean

UC BardFollowing up on my previous posts (links below):  Press Release:

Jennifer Bard, the first female Dean of the College of Law at the University of Cincinnati (UC), late this past Friday filed a lawsuit against the University and its interim provost Peter F. Landgren in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio, Western Division. 

The complaint asserts Landgren and the institution illegally placed Bard on administrative leave in March immediately following her response to local media reports about financial deficits at the College and faculty members’ responses to her efforts to reduce those deficits.

Marjorie Berman, of Krantz & Berman LLP in New York City and R. Gary Winters, of McCaslin, Imbus & McCaslin in Cincinnati, are representing Bard in the matter.

“The University of Cincinnati has deprived Dean Bard of her rights under the U.S. Constitution,” said Berman. “She has been wrongfully placed on administrative leave by an Interim Provost in violation of her constitutional rights and the explicit policies of the institution. Landgren retaliated against her for providing factual information to the media about substantive financial difficulties at the UC College of Law and the response of a small group of faculty to these difficulties.

Bard was appointed Dean of the UC College of Law in July 2015 on a 5-year contract. Her primary mission was to focus on reducing the school’s deficit and increasing its enrollment. She made substantial progress toward both goals in her first year in the post, and was awarded a $15,000 bonus in recognition of those achievements.

Deficit-reduction and future cost-cutting plans were met with resistance from some faculty and staff. Taking advantage of turnover and a vacuum in the institution’s top leadership, including the resignation of UC’s president and provost, a small group of law school professors who would be most directly impacted by cost saving measures, threatened Bard with a vote of “no confidence” unless she abandoned many of her deficit-reduction activities.

In an escalating cascade of events, some triggered by a media outlet’s state open records request for emails related to a potential no confidence vote, newly appointed Interim Provost Landgren backed the faculty cabal, even though he admitted in a March 24th law school faculty meeting that Bard had done nothing illegal, immoral or unethical and there “smoking gun” that prompted him to place her on administrative leave.

“I came to UC in good faith, deeply committed to addressing the College of Law’s failure to adapt to a rapidly changing legal market,” said Bard. ”Although I enjoyed the support of the students and many highly talented faculty and staff, the university now seems committed to seeing a small, entitled minority of faculty hijack reform efforts that should be dedicated solely to the welfare of its students.  I have no recourse but to protect my good name and encourage an open discussion of the deeply rooted and on-going problems that existed here well before my arrival. ‘

The complaint asserts Bard was denied due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment when she was summarily placed on administrative leave, suffered First Amendment retaliation for speaking to the press on matters of public concern, and that UC breached both its contract with her and a 6-month plan to restore mutual trust and communication.“There is a certain irony here that the very institution tasked with teaching future lawyers and jurists about due process and the constitution is violating those very sacrosanct principles,” said Berman.

The lawsuit demands injunctive relief — Bard’s reinstatement as Dean and removal from administrative leave because she engaged in no misconduct or other activity justifying being placed on administrative leave. Compensatory and punitive damages against Landgren for the violation of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights; a declaratory judgment that the defendants had no lawful or factual basis for placing her on administrative leave; monetary damages against UC for breach of contract, and legal fees are demanded.


Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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She has a five-year contract (starting in 2015).
Will she be paid for this employment contract, or is the university claiming that the contract is now void?

Posted by: JWJ | Apr 25, 2017 12:44:21 PM

I don't have an opinion on the strength of her claims. FWIW, tenured professors at public colleges are more likely to get specific performance than tenured professors at private colleges.

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Apr 25, 2017 5:59:43 AM

Ah yes. The dreaded vote of "no confidence" from tenured faculty. That should have been enough to strike terror in the heart of law school dean.

Posted by: old gunny | Apr 25, 2017 3:45:15 AM

As a general matter, suing your current or former employer is not a good career move.

Specific performance is an unusual remedy for an employment contract.

Posted by: employment law | Apr 24, 2017 6:43:47 PM

Employment law experts--- are any of these claims non-frivolous? Apparently, she is still being paid by the university, for essentially zero work now. She is suing for specific performance, to be restored as Dean. My impression was always that university administrative positions were at-will, as would make sense, even for tenured faculty (who keep their job as professor, just not as administrator). Am I wrong?

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Apr 24, 2017 5:20:18 PM

This just seems like a dumb move even if she has strong legal arguments. She's burned through so much reputational capital.

Posted by: HTA | Apr 24, 2017 7:49:57 AM