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Appeals Court Affirms Professor’s Tenure Rights

(CN) - Puerto Rico's law that protects at-will employees from being fired without severance payments does not apply to tenured university professors, the 1st Circuit ruled.

Edwin Otero-Burgos sued Inter American University after he was fired from his position as business professor.

He refused to change a student's "D" grade and refused to administer a supplemental test that would have allowed the student to make up some points.

Otero-Burgos sued for breach of contract, but the district court dismissed the case, agreeing with the university that his claim was barred by Law 80.

That law provides Puerto Rico's at-will employees with severance pay as an exclusive remedy when their contract does not have a fixed term and when they are fired without just cause.

Judge Lipez of the Boston-based federal appeals court overturned the decision, ruling that Law 80 does not apply to tenured professors.

"Otero-Burgos's tenure contract simply could not fulfill its function of safeguarding academic freedom and providing economic security," Lipez wrote, "if the severance payment were the only consequence faced by the university for firing him in violation of that contract."

The court reinstated the professor's contract claim.

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