“Insubordination necessarily has real consequences in the workplace, even for tenured faculty.”
-- Judge Robert J. Jonker
U.S. District Court, Western District of Michigan

Fired Law Professor Still Fired
September 14, 2010

A former [tenured] professor who convinced a federal court that she was denied a [] hearing before she was fired has nevertheless lost her bid to reclaim her old job.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan found that Thomas M. Cooley Law School had cause to fire law professor Lynn Branham after it held the appropriate hearing to do so.

Judge Robert Jonker ruled on Sept. 7 that Branham had violated her employment contract with the school and that her tenured status did not entitle her to more protection than the contract provided.

"Insubordination necessarily has real consequences in the workplace, even for tenured faculty," the judge wrote.

Branham alleged in a 2007 lawsuit that she was fired in retaliation for opposing the law school's hiring of the husband of a board member. The board member was Jane Markey, a judge on the Michigan Court of Appeals. Her husband is Curt Benson, an associate professor at the school. Branham alleged that hiring Benson created a conflict of interest. She also contended that he was not qualified to serve on the faculty.

Branham's suit alleged that she was fired from her job without a hearing when law school administrators unfairly piled on teaching responsibilities in retaliation for her opposition.

In September 2009, Jonker found that the school violated procedure by not affording Branham a proper hearing before it terminated her. In March 2010, the judge denied the school's motion to dismiss.

Jonker, in his latest decision, found that the school, following his initial ruling, provided her with a fair hearing. He also found that the school assigned her a permissible workload under her contract and that when she refused to accept the workload, it had cause to fire her.

He wrote that he was not convinced by Branham's argument that because she was tenured, she was entitled to a "lifetime appointment," despite the terms of the contract.

"[M]any of the conflicts in this case appear to stem from her extreme and contractually erroneous view of the rights her contractual tenure guarantees," he wrote.

Branham's attorney, Houston sole practitioner Alan Foster Blakley, said that the decision should "shock" tenured law professors.

"It shows a complete inability to understand that the term 'tenure' has meaning beyond any meaning that a contract can give to it," he said. Blakley added that Branham is considering whether to appeal.

Representing the law school was Megan Norris, a principal in Miller Canfield's Detroit office.

"I hope this is the end of it," she said. "I'm not convinced that it is."

Branham, now a visiting professor teaching criminal law at St. Louis University School of Law, is a graduate of University of Chicago Law School and previously served as associate dean at Cooley's Grand Rapids, Mich., campus. With an enrollment of more than 3,800 students, Cooley is the nation's largest law school. It is listed in the fourth tier of law schools ranked by U.S. News & World Report. Its main campus is in Lansing.

Copyright 2010, ALM Media Properties, LLC

From: Leigh Jones, "Fired Law Professor Still Fired," New York Lawyer, reprinted from The National Law Journal, September 14, 2010, http://www.nylj.com/nylawyer/news/10/09/091410d.html, accessed 09/15/10.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.