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Tenure denial and discharge don’t give right to sue over ruined reputation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Probationary university professors whose contracts aren’t renewed because they failed to achieve tenure status can’t use tenure denial alone as the basis of a suit alleging damage to their reputations.

They must show that the decision was actually motivated by something like race or sex discrimination.

Recent case: Andrea Weathers, who is black, worked for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a tenure-track assistant professor.

She published just six scholarly articles during the years leading up to the tenure decision. Other profs produced at least 12. The university rejected Weathers for tenure and she sued, alleging the decision irreparably harmed her reputation in the academic community.

She requested an injunction to prevent the university from removing her—that is, she sued to force the university to keep her on the faculty pending the outcome of her lawsuit. She argued that, as she was the chief investigator on a National Institutes of Health grant that has just been awarded, she would be unable to continue that work if she were terminated.

To lose the chance to work on the grant, she argued, meant that her reputation would be shot.

The court tossed out her case. It reasoned that she would have to show more than tenure denial to have a case. She would also have to show that the denial was based on some illegal reason such as race or sex discrimination. (Weathers v. University of North Carolina, No. 1:08-CV-847, MD NC, 2008)

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