U.S. Court of Appeals finds in favor of Cooley Law School

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled on Aug. 6 that the dismissal of former law professor Lynn Branham from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School faculty was proper. Affirming a decision in Cooley's favor by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan in Grand Rapids in 2010, the federal appellate court sitting in Cincinnati found that "Cooley's termination process complies with Michigan and federal law, and Cooley followed the prescribed process."

Branham, then a tenured professor, refused to teach what the district court termed ''a normal and contractually permitted set of courses'' assigned to her, insisting that she would teach only criminal law or criminal procedure. Cooley dismissed her after she refused to teach constitutional law, a course she had already agreed to teach.

Following a hearing in September 2009, the district court had ordered Cooley to provide Branham with a tenure proceeding in which the school's faculty and board of directors would be asked to concur in Branham's 2006 removal from the faculty by the school's president and dean. Cooley's faculty then voted by a margin of more than 4 to 1 to affirm that removal, and Cooley's board of directors unanimously approved the faculty's action.

Before the September 2009 hearing, the court had previously rejected claims by Branham 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.

When Branham later questioned the validity of the tenure process and instead sought a jury trial for damages, the Sixth Circuit rejected her contentions, saying that Branham "received the remedy from Cooley, in the form of a hearing and a faculty conference vote on her dismissal, as prescribed by her contract."

"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."

Published: Mon, Aug 13, 2012