Tenure does not guarantee a job for life, a federal appeals court has declared in affirming the dismissal of a former professor's lawsuit against the Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
Lynn Branham was fired in 2006 and sued, accusing the school of violating its internal procedures and the protections of the tenure system.
But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on Monday ruled that Branham was not entitled to any job protections beyond her 12-month contract, even though she was a tenured faculty member.
Additionally, the appeals court agreed that a faculty tenure hearing held three years after Branham was initially fired fulfilled the school's procedural obligations.
James Robb, Cooley's senior counsel and associate dean for development and alumni relations, called the ruling an important reaffirmation of the right of colleges and universities to manage themselves.
"The Sixth Circuit's decision is a total vindication for Cooley's removal of Branham for refusing to do her job," he said.
Branham countered that the judges did not seem to understand the meaning of tenure. She predicted that the decision would have repercussions far beyond Cooley.
"This has been a long, hard, tortuous journey," Branham said. "I do believe the decision is legally erroneous."
According to her complaint, Branham had taught criminal law at Cooley since 1983 and held tenure. Cooley administrators cited her refusal to teach constitutional law in her dismissal.
She claimed that she was fired in retaliation for opposing the law school's hiring of the husband of board member Jane Markey, a judge on the Michigan Court of Appeals. Branham alleged that his hiring was the result of a conflict of interest and that he was not qualified. She sued Cooley for breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.