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Law School Case Brief

Kakaes v. George Wash. Univ. - 683 A.2d 128 (D.C. 1996)

Rule:

The relevant inquiry in a case involving termination of an academic staff member is not whether the petitioner had knowledge of the possibility that he would be discharged, but whether the petitioner received timely notice of termination in compliance with the school's regulations.

Tenure may be obtained upon the failure to give timely notice of a decision not to grant tenure or not to nominate for tenure. The appropriate authority must in fact have made the decision by the time of the giving of such a notice. An unauthorized notice, given before the statutory deadline, cannot properly preserve an option in the school committee to make an adverse tenure decision at some later date. Failure to act seasonably to deny tenure and to give notice of that decision has the effect of "electing" to grant tenure. 

Facts:

The professor applied for tenure a year before his appointment expired. Under the university's faculty code (code), an applicant had to be informed by June 30 preceding the year in which his appointment expired. After conflict between the faculty and the administration, the executive committee decided against the professor's tenure. The university board of trustees (board) was then asked to make a final decision. Just prior to June 30, the professor received a notice that he had not been granted tenure, but that the matter was before the board. The professor brought a breach of contract action against the university, and the superior court granted the university's summary judgment motion. 

Issue:

Did the university fail to provide plaintiff with timely notice of a final and definitive denial of his application for a tenured appointment?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

On appeal, the court held that the notice letter was insufficient as a matter of law to satisfy the university's contractual obligations under the code, because the code clearly stated that the professor was to receive a final tenure decision by June 30. Because the board had yet to decide the issue, the notice was not final. There was no substantial compliance in that the professor was allegedly on notice to look for another job, because the professor was in fact left in a state of indecision. The court reversed the order granting summary judgment to the university in the action by the professor for unlawful denial of tenure, and remanded the action to the superior court for further proceedings.

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