PHOENIX (CN) – Phoenix School of Law fired two tenured professors who objected to its attempt to reduce students’ ability to transfer, which a dean called “building a better mousetrap,” the professors claim in court.
Michael O’Connor and Celia Rumann sued Phoenix School of Law and its corporate parent InfiLaw Corp., in Federal Court.
The plaintiffs, who are married, claim they “objected to defendants’ proposed curriculum changes that would reduce students’ abilities to transfer to schools that the students perceive to provide better opportunities for job placement (described by Dean Shirley Mays as ‘building a better mousetrap’).” (Parentheses in complaint.)
O’Connor and Rumann say they “objected to Dean Mays approach, and argued that building a law school that emphasized strong teaching, individualized attention for students, increased opportunities for elective courses, greater and more nuanced financial grants, and aggressive job placement would create a greater value for students and thus better address transfer attrition.”
And, the complaint states, Associate Dean Penny Willrich announced during a special meeting on attrition “that she had already adopted a policy of not writing recommendation letters for students seeking to transfer out of the school.”
An InfiLaw representative at the meeting “responded that writing recommendation letters would be contrary to the interests of the school and questioned why a faculty member would write recommendation letters,” the complaint states.
Also, the plaintiffs claim, they were fired after they objected to a “systematic program to undermine and, in some cases ignore, the role of faculty in the governance of the Phoenix School of Law, including an attempt to reduce or eliminate the ability to attain tenure, and to reduce or eliminate the faculty’s role in setting admission standards.”
They claim the “defendants are explicitly and virulently opposed to faculty tenure and governance but publicly (mis)represented their support for faculty tenure and governance in their effort to obtain ABA accreditation for the School.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
O’Connor received tenure in 2010, and Rumann in 2011, according to the complaint.
They claim they were invited to a series of meetings with members of InfiLaw in Florida as part of the school’s “leadership team,” where “one speaker informed the leadership teams that, in his opinion, law school faculty, and tenured faculty in particular, were the primary problems at law schools nationally.”
O’Connor and Rumann say they challenged the speaker, but their opinions were dismissed.
They claim the InfiLaw CEO Rick Inatome said at a meeting “that law schools’ faculty were the primary cause of problems with law school.”
O’Connor claims he “challenged Mr. Inatome and explained that the view expressed was not consistent with the dedication and depth of experience with the school’s faculty that had worked extremely hard for the school’s students and were directly responsible for the positive student outcomes that the school’s students had achieved.”
After the Florida meetings, O’Connor was removed from the leadership team, and Rumann was removed from it later, they say in the complaint.
O’Connor and Rumann claim that because the school’s faculty handbook gives them “the ‘contractual right to be re-employed for succeeding academic years,’ and tenure at Phoenix School of Law guarantees five-year terms that are presumptively renewable, defendants breached their obligation to bring any alleged concerns about how to formally document that presumptive contractual-right of reemployment to Professors O’Connor and Rumann prior to the May 17, 2013 deadline if defendants believed the failure to sign and submit the ‘appointment letter’ as presented on May 3, 2013 on or before May 17, 2013 constituted – in defendants’ opinion — a rejection of defendants’ offer of employment.”
They seek damages for breach of contract, and costs.
They are represented by Michelle Swann with Schneider and Onofry.
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