Thomas M. Cooley Law School properly terminated a tenured professor, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled this week.
The Michigan-based law school terminated Lynn Branham after she refused to teach Constitutional Law. Branham had insisted that she would teach only Criminal Law or Criminal Procedure. She claimed that she suffered from a disability, that Cooley violated her rights under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act and a similar Michigan statute, and that Cooley intentionally inflicted emotional distress.
The federal appellate court found that “Cooley’s termination process complies with Michigan and federal law, and Cooley followed the prescribed process.” It affirmed the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan in Grand Rapids decision in 2010
“The Sixth Circuit’s decision is a total vindication for Cooley's removal of Branham for refusing to do her job,” said James Robb, Cooley’s Associate Dean for Development and Alumni Relations and Senior Counsel. “The Sixth Circuit’s decision is very important to institutions of higher learning because it confirms that ‘tenure’ is a contractual concept which takes its meaning only from the language of the particular employment contract and from nothing else. The word ‘tenure’ itself adds no gloss, contrary to what Branham had urged.”
Cooley had followed its internal grievance procedure, providing Branham with a tenure proceeding. The faculty and the board of directors both upheld the termination.
“The decision vindicates Cooley’s particular good-cause process and reaffirms the long-established principle that institutions of higher education are entitled to manage their own affairs,” Robb said.