The 2d District Court of Appeal on Nov. 3 upheld an award of $350,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress suffered by the professor, Nelson Rose. But the court threw out $500,000 in punitive damages, explaining in an unpublished opinion that his attorneys neglected to provide evidence regarding Whittier College’s overall financial condition.
Rose filed suit against Whittier in 2008 for fraud and negligent misrepresentation. The case stemmed from a 2005 decision by the American Bar Association to place Whittier Law School on accreditation probation because of low bar passage rates. Administrators, worried that the ABA’s decision would hurt the school’s ability to draw students, warned that it needed reduce the size of its faculty, according to the decision. The school offered 20 full-time faculty members a tenure buyout equal to one year’s salary. Without the buyouts, professors would see their teaching loads doubled and salaries frozen indefinitely, they said.
Rose, who had taught at Whittier for 23 years, accepted the buyout. Several weeks later, the results of the California bar exam were released and the school’s pass rate had shot up by 20 percent. Shortly after Rose’s departure in July 2007, the tenured professors who did not accept the buyout received a 3 percent raise and have not been forced to take on more courses, the appeals court wrote.
The trial court ruled in Rose’s favor in June 2010 and in addition to the damages ordered him reinstated.
“The trial court found that a confidential relationship existed between Rose and Whittier, and that Whittier’s administrators failed to disclose to Rose information material to his decision to relinquish his tenure at the Law School,” the appeals court wrote.
On appeal, Whittier argued that the trial court erred in finding that the information provided by the law school to the faculty about future financial and teaching hardships were “representations of fact” rather than “nonactionable expressions of opinion.” The appeals court disagreed with that argument, as well as Whittier’s argument that it had no responsibility to disclose to Rose the findings of a consultant hired by the school to examine its finances.
Attorneys for Rose and Whittier College did not immediately return calls for comment
Contact Karen Sloan at email@example.com.