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Paul v. Howard University

May 25, 2000


Before Terry, Steadman, and Ruiz, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Stephen F. Eilperin, Trial Judge)

(Argued October 30, 1997 Decided May 25, 2000)

Appellant, Dr. Alakananda Paul, filed a nine-count complaint *fn1 against Howard University, her former employer, and several of its administrators *fn2 after she failed to receive a tenured position at the University. Her complaint alleged breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, interference with contractual relations and prospective advantage, breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, breach of an implied-in-fact employment contract, conspiracy, and retaliation and discrimination under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"). The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants as to all counts, ruling that Dr. Paul's DCHRA claims were barred by the statute of limitations and that the undisputed facts failed to support her remaining claims. We affirm.


A. Dr. Paul's Employment History

Dr. Paul began teaching at Howard University in July 1986, when the University granted her a three-year probationary appointment *fn3 as an associate professor in its Electrical Engineering department. She continued as a tenure track associate professor until May 31, 1993. *fn4 At that point, Dr. Paul had been an associate professor for seven years, the maximum allowable probationary period under the rules of the University. See Howard University Manual, Faculty Handbook: Employment and Tenure Policies Governing Faculty Positions (1980) (hereafter "1980 Handbook"), Policy on Tenure, § C (3); 1993 Howard University Faculty Handbook (hereafter "1993 Handbook"), § 2.5.3. The University offered her a temporary position as a lecturer for one academic year, from August 1, 1993, through May 31, 1994. Such temporary appointments at the University are not tenure track positions, and in accepting the University's offer, Dr. Paul signed a contract that waived "any right to a claim of tenure as well as any years of employment attributable to tenure with the University." The contract also stated that it contained "no representations, warranties, promises, covenants, or undertakings other than those expressly set forth herein." *fn5 See 1993 Handbook, § 2.5.4.

The University initially decided not to renew this appointment and on July 5, 1994, sent a letter to Dr. Paul asking her to return any keys and University property. When she failed to respond, the University sent her a second letter on September 8, 1994, but Dr. Paul refused to vacate her office. Her status during the 1994-1995 academic year is not clear from the record, but at some point Dr. Paul was offered an additional one-year lecturer appointment for 1995-1996. She signed the proposed contract, but changed "lecturer" to "associate professor" and struck the language waiving any claim to tenure. Upon receiving the altered document, the University notified Dr. Paul that it considered her reply to be a rejection of its offer. The parties did not pursue the matter further, and on July 8, 1995, Dr. Paul's employment at the University officially ended.

B. Dr. Paul's 1992 and 1993 Tenure Applications

During her time at the University, Dr. Paul submitted two applications for tenure in 1992 and 1993, both of which were rejected. In October 1992, approximately seven months before her final probationary appointment was to expire, Dr. Paul submitted her first application for tenure. On October 26 the Electrical Engineering Departmental Appointments, Promotions, and Tenure Committee ("the Department Committee") unanimously voted not to recommend her for tenure because she had "very poor" research activity, "below average" professional development, and "average" teaching ability and service performance. *fn6 On November 9 Dr. Paul was notified that her tenure application had been denied. On November 24, 1992, she wrote a memorandum to Dr. James Momoh, Chairman of the Department of Electrical Engineering, expressing her disappointment and reiterating her accomplishments at the University.

In October 1993, during her temporary term as a lecturer, Dr. Paul applied for tenure a second time. Although the 1993 Handbook and her employment contract both made clear that she had no right to be considered for tenure, the Department Committee reviewed her application; again, however, it voted not to recommend her for tenure. Dr. Paul was notified of this decision in a memorandum dated December 1, 1993.

The Department Committee forwarded Dr. Paul's application to the school-wide Appointments, Promotions, and Tenure Committee ("the School Committee") on January 21, 1994. *fn7 The School Committee recommended her for tenure and sent the matter back to the Electrical Engineering department on February 23, 1995. Notwithstanding the recommendation of the School Committee, Dr. Lucius Walker, Dean of the School of Engineering, sent Dr. Paul a letter on May 2, 1995, stating that he would not support her application and that he had forwarded his evaluation to Dr. James Johnson, Acting Dean of the University. Dr. Johnson, noting that he did not support the application because Dr. Paul's publication and teaching effectiveness record was below that of her peers, sent the application to Dr. Orlando Taylor, Vice President for Academic Affairs, on May 12, 1995. Dr. Taylor forwarded the materials to the Interim President of the University, Dr. Joyce Ladner, who officially denied the application. Dr. Johnson informed Dr. Paul of that final decision on July 7, 1995.

C. Dr. Paul's Complaint to the Faculty Grievance Commission

After her first tenure application was denied and while her second application was still pending, Dr. Paul filed a grievance with the Faculty Grievance Commission ("the Commission") on May 14, 1994. In the grievance Dr. Paul complained that her tenure applications had been mishandled, that she had been wrongfully denied tenure, and that she was the victim of sex discrimination and retaliation. The Commission, which had no authority to grant or deny tenure, ultimately determined that her claims of retaliation and discrimination were groundless but that she was qualified to receive tenure as a result of her endorsement by the School Committee in 1995. *fn8

D. The Tenure Consideration Process under the Faculty Handbooks

There are two faculty handbooks involved in this case, both of which set forth explicit procedures for the University to follow in its consideration of tenure applications. At the time Dr. Paul was hired in 1986, the 1980 Handbook governed employment policies and procedures. *fn9 The 1980 Handbook was replaced by the 1993 Handbook, which expressly superseded "all prior faculty handbooks." Therefore, the 1980 Handbook was applicable when Dr. Paul submitted her first tenure application in 1992, and the 1993 Handbook was applicable when she applied for tenure the second time in October 1993.

The 1980 Handbook provided that after the completion of a probationary period of at least three years and not more than seven years, an appointee became eligible for consideration of indefinite tenure and could submit an application to the Department Committee. 1980 Handbook, Policy on Tenure, § C (3). If the application had the support of a majority of the Department Committee, the recommendation was forwarded to the School Committee. If the School Committee also recommended the application, it was sent to the Dean of the appropriate school or college, who forwarded it, along with the recommendations of both Committees and the Dean's assessment of the applicant, either to the Vice President for Academic Affairs or to the Vice President for Health Affairs, whichever was appropriate. Id. at § C (5)-(7). Finally, the Vice President forwarded the materials to the President of the University for presentation to the Board of Trustees, which made the final decision on tenure. Id. at § C (7). The 1980 Handbook made clear that tenure was not presumed, regardless of the number of probationary terms that an applicant had completed. The Board of Trustees granted tenure to an individual only if he or she (1) had completed the probationary period, (2) met the qualifications for indefinite tenure prescribed by the particular school or college involved, (3) had been formally recommended by the appropriate faculty, *fn10 and (4) had been approved and recommended by the President of the University. Id., Employment Policies Governing Faculty Positions, § D (3).

The tenure consideration process set forth in the 1993 Handbook is similar to that in the 1980 Handbook. First, the department in which the appointee is employed reviews the application and votes on whether to recommend tenure. 1993 Handbook at § Unlike the 1980 Handbook, however, the 1993 Handbook provides that the department must submit its decision, whether positive or negative, to the School Committee. If the School Committee does not recommend tenure, the applicant may appeal that decision to the Faculty Grievance Commission before the appropriate Vice President reviews the petition. Id. at § The Vice President then assesses the application and notifies the candidate and the department of his or her decision. Id. at § The President and Board of Trustees review the application only if the Vice President recommends tenure, and tenure may be awarded by the Board of Trustees ...

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