Jury finds Clark Atlanta U. breached contract and acted in bad faith in firing tenured faculty

I wrote a few posts about the mass faculty layoffs by Clark Atlanta University that occurred in early February, 2009. My wife was one of 54 faculty laid off, although she was tenured, in her 20th year, and had a current NSF grant, with both graduate and undergraduate students in her lab. Last year, several other tenured and tenure-track faculty who were laid off by CAU at the same time won their lawsuit, where the jury found that CAU breached their contract and acted in bad faith, entitling the plaintiffs to damages and to recover attorney’s fees.

My wife pursued a separate case, with potential discrimination based on race and gender. She filed a complaint with the EEOC, and the EEOC investigated and determined that CAU had most likely discriminated based on her race. However, CAU refused to participate in mediation by the EEOC, and a federal court declined to accept a Title VII discrimination case. My wife then filed a breach of contract suit, focusing on tenure.

I’m glad to announce that today, my wife’s long legal journey concluded with a jury verdict in her favor. This jury, too, found that CAU breached her contract, and that CAU acted in bad faith by declaring an “enrollment emergency” to sidestep tenure. The jury essentially determined that the “enrollment emergency” was a contrived excuse to bypass normal procedures and enable the administration to fire tenured faculty. The jury awarded her $300,000 in damages, plus $104,000 in attorney’s fees. Academics will think that is too little compensation for a derailed career. Others may feel sorry for CAU.

For those that feel for CAU, I point out that CAU had numerous opportunities to make this right for far less cost. First, CAU should not have fired a tenured faculty member with 20 years of dedicated service, with an active NSF grant and graduate and undergraduate students in the lab. Second, CAU could have followed through when my wife filed an internal grievance. The CAU administration never responded. Third, when my wife filed an EEOC complaint because of the lack of action on her grievance, and the EEOC determined that she had indeed suffered discrimination in her firing, CAU refused to participate in any mediation to resolve the discrimination complaint. Fourth, when my wife engaged her attorney, Patrick McKee, he sent a demand letter to CAU asking for $150,000 in damages to settle her legal dispute. CAU failed to even respond. Fifth, the judge in the breach of contract suit strongly suggested mediation. CAU’s offer was so far from what my wife considered reasonable that the mediator decided that any further discussions would be fruitless (I can’t disclose CAU’s offer because the details of mediation are confidential). Finally, CAU could have made a reasonable offer to settle the case at any time, and chose not to. Instead, CAU now faces a payout of $400,000 plus their own attorney’s fees and litigation costs.

The case isn’t quite over. The judge has not yet entered the verdict into judgment. She could yet throw out the jury’s verdict. I’m hopeful that she will respect the jury’s verdict.

Added Monday, Feb 2 2015: The verdict was entered and filed later Friday, January 30, and the above paragraph struck through to reflect that.

Added Sunday, Jan 31 2015:

I decided to add an excerpt from the EEOC’s determination letter. What follows below is the 2nd page (the first page finds insufficient evidence for discrimination based on age and gender), with the name of a second individual redacted. The “conciliation” mentioned in the letter never took place, as CAU refused to participate.

EEOC Charge No: 410-2009-03026

The evidence does reveal however that the Charging Party and [name redacted] were paid less than non-White similarly situated employees. Examination of the evidence further reveals that the Respondent did not follow its own layoff policy and instead laid off Charging Party and [name redacted], two of the most senior and tenured faculty, because of their race, White. Evidence further reveals that the Respondent has posted for and hired non-White faculty in Charging Party’s department since the purported layoff.

Based on the above and the record as a whole, there is reasonable cause to conclude that the Charging Party was denied equal wages, laid off, and not rehired because of her race in violation of Title VII. Like and related and growing out of the investigation, there is also reasonable cause to believe that White employees as a class are discriminated against with respect to wages, layoff, and rehire in violation of Title VII.

Upon finding that there is reason to believe that violations have occurred, the Commission attempts to eliminate the alleged unlawful practices by informal methods of conciliation. Therefore, the Commission now invites the parties to join with it in reaching a just resolution of this matter. In this regard, conciliation of this matter has now begun. A conciliation agreement containing the type of relief necessary to remedy the violation of the statute is included for your review. When the Respondent declines to enter into settlement discussions, or when the Commissions representative for any other reason is unable to secure a settlement acceptable to the Office Director, the Director shall so inform the parties in writing and advise them of the court enforcement alternative available to the Charging Party, aggrieved persons, and the Commission. The confidentiality provision of the statutes and Commission Regulations apply to information obtained during conciliation.

You are reminded that Federal Law prohibits retaliation against persons who have exercised their right to inquire or complain about matters they believe may violate the law. Discrimination against persons who have cooperated in the Commissions investigations is also prohibited. These protections apply regardless of the Commissions determination on the merits of the charge.

Bernice Williams-Kimbrough

Director Atlanta District Office

August 30, 2011

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About jchoigt

I'm an Associate Professor in the School of Biology at Georgia Tech, and Faculty Coordinator of the Professional MS Bioinformatics degree program.
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One Response to Jury finds Clark Atlanta U. breached contract and acted in bad faith in firing tenured faculty

  1. Jim Hardeman says:

    Just damn.

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