Cases & Deals

Notre Dame obtains reversal and complete victory in suit by fired tenured professor

Clients University of Notre Dame

In the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Jones Day secured a unanimous complete victory for the University of Notre Dame du Lac in a suit by a tenured professor, Oliver Collins, who challenged on several grounds his removal for having misused grant money.

Although the district court had found against Dr. Collins on a constructive-fraud claim, it granted summary judgment to him on a breach-of-contract claim and then, following trial, awarded him approximately half-a-million dollars in damages (he had sought approximately $4.5 million), after finding that the procedure Notre Dame followed in dismissing him for serious cause breached its Academic Articles, part of the employment contract between the University and its professors. On appeal, Jones Day argued among other things that the district court had misinterpreted the key provision of the Articles, given its text, context, and background law regarding academic adjudications. The Seventh Circuit, even though finding the provision ambiguous in isolation, agreed with Jones Day based on the Articles as a whole; held that, under a correct reading, Notre Dame had not violated any of the Articles' procedures; and thus reversed.

The appellate court went on to also hold that there could be no genuine dispute that Notre Dame had serious cause under the Articles to dismiss Dr. Collins. The Seventh Circuit thus not only reversed summary judgment against Notre Dame but also directed entry of summary judgment in Notre Dame's favor, rendering the various issues in his cross-appeal moot and leaving Collins entitled to no damages. The court denied his petitions for rehearing and for rehearing en banc.

Collins v. University of Notre Dame Du Lac, Nos. 18-2579 (7th Cir.); 3-10-cv-00281 (N.D. Ind.)

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