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Allworth v. Howard University

January 12, 2006

ANN ALLWORTH, APPELLANT,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB-8998-03) (Hon. Michael L. Rankin, Trial Judge).

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

Argued December 14, 2005

Before FARRELL and REID, Associate Judges, and MORIN,*fn1 Associate Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

This case involves appellant Ann Allworth's challenge to Howard University's ("Howard") denial of her application for tenure in the Department of Anatomy, College of Medicine. The trial court granted Howard's motion for summary judgment and dismissed Dr. Allworth's complaint. Dr. Allworth contends that summary judgment was improper because there are material issues in dispute, and Howard breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing by interfering with her ability to conduct research. We affirm, holding that Howard was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

The record before us establishes that the Dean of the Howard University College of Medicine offered Dr. Allworth a tenure track appointment as an Assistant Professor of Anatomy on June 21, 1995.*fn2 Approximately five years later, Dr. Allworth filed her application for tenure and promotion to the rank of Associate Professor. On November 14, 2000, the Chairman of the Department of Anatomy sent a written memorandum to the College of Medicine Appointment and Promotions Committee indicating that the Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure Committee of the Department of Anatomy had met for three hours to assess Dr. Allworth's application. The Department of Anatomy's Committee voted 7-6 against tenure and promotion; it "considered Dr. Allworth's research productivity weak." A few weeks later, on December 4, 2000, a scholarly journal, MOLECULAR REPRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT, informed Dr. Allworth that the paper she had authored with three other persons ("Temporal Relationship of Nuclear Structure and Transcription in Mouse Oocytes and Preimplantation Embryos") had been rejected for publication. The cover letter referenced "serious criticisms" of the paper by reviewers, attached the comments of the reviewers, and left open the possibility of a new submission.

On February 12, 2001, the Vice Provost for Health Affairs and Dean of the College of Medicine*fn3 sent a letter to the Chairman of the Department of Anatomy informing him that the College-wide Committee on Faculty Appointments, Promotions, and Tenure regarded Dr. Allworth's application as "premature" and concluded that Dr. Allworth "should be given another year to improve her scholarly productivity."*fn4 Subsequently, on June 18, 2001, the Dean of the College of Medicine sent a letter to the Interim Provost "requesting that Dr. Allworth be given an additional two years on the tenure track to meet the rigorous criteria for tenure and to re-apply for tenure during the fiscal year 2004 promotion cycle." The letter also asked that Dr. Allworth be promoted to the rank of Associate Professor. On July 16, 2001, the Provost and Chief Academic Officer responded, stating that "effective August 3, 2001, [Dr. Allworth] will have completed seven years in probationary status," and hence, an additional two-year extension was not possible under the Faculty Handbook. The Provost and Chief Academic Officer also declined to support the recommendation of a promotion to Associate Professor.

Dr. Allworth requested reconsideration of her tenure application on October 18, 2001, and the Chair of the departmental appointments, promotion and tenure committee sent a letter to Dr. Allworth on November 9, 2001, advising her that the committee did not recommend her promotion with tenure due to "the lack of progress in [her] publication record of peer-reviewed papers. . . ," although it "continues to be pleased with your excellent and improving record in teaching and service." In a letter dated February 19, 2002, the Vice Provost for Health Affairs and Dean of the College of Medicine informed the Chairman of the Department of Anatomy of the following assessment of Dr. Allworth and recommendation by the College-wide Committee on Faculty Appointments, Promotions, and Tenure, with which he did not concur:

The Committee found that Dr. Allworth has made an outstanding contribution to the College of Medicine's teaching program and currently serves in the very laborious and time consuming position of block coordinator of the Structure and Function course. Dr. Allworth has further made significant service contributions to the University and the community at large, and has been successful in receiving two substantial grants for her breast cancer research. The Committee found that Dr. Allworth's publication record is deficient, having produced only a single junior authored publication in her 6 years at Howard. The Committee recognized Dr. Allworth's problems with contamination of her tissue cultures, but could not support her request for promotion given her low scholarly productivity.

Around one month later, Dr. Allworth forwarded a detailed letter to the Vice President of Health Affairs and Dean of the College of Medicine summarizing the obstacles she encountered in her research endeavors, including the lack of a laboratory upon arrival, the necessity of changing her research focus from developmental cell biology to cancer because of the lab assigned to her in the Cancer Center in November of 1996, the forced move to a different laboratory in the Cancer Center in early 1997, the contamination of the shared tissue culture facility which she used, and the lack of an operational "free standing hood" for her laboratory until January 31, 2002. She also explained that she accepted the Structure and Function block coordinator position with the understanding that she would have two additional years in which to meet the tenure publication requirement, and she listed her accomplishments, including four teaching awards in a six-year period, improvements in the curriculum, and development of an interactive web page for the Structure and Function Block.

On May 2, 2002, the Chairman of the Department of Anatomy recommended Dr. Allworth "for a two year, full time, tenure track position as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anatomy . . ., a two year extension of her probationary period." On November 6, 2003, the Appointment, Promotion, and Tenure Committee of the Department of Anatomy voted 9-2 against the promotion and tenure of Dr. Allworth. The Chairman of the Department of Anatomy informed Dr. Allworth, by letter of November 19, 2003, that the College had turned down her request for promotion to the rank of Associate Professor. He indicated that he "could not support [her] application for promotion without research publications and viable evidence of possible future research productivity." The Chairman reiterated his position in a letter of December 9, 2003, to the Promotions and Tenure Committee of the College of Medicine. Later, on December 23, 2003, the Appointments, Promotions and Tenure Committee of the Department of Anatomy confirmed its November 2003 decision to deny promotion and tenure to Dr. Allworth.

The College-wide Committee on Faculty Appointments, Promotions and Tenure recommended that Dr. Allworth not be promoted due to a lack of progress in the areas of "scholarly activities and grantsmanship." And, in a letter dated March 31, 2004, the Dean of the College of Medicine recounted the delay in Dr. Allworth's research progess "[b]ecause of a change in research focus and acquisition of equipment to pursue her investigations." He concluded:

During her probationary period, Dr. Allworth did not demonstrate adequate scholarly productivity to warrant promotion and tenure. In this regard, I support the recommendations of the Chairman and the two [appointments, promotions, and tenure] committees. Dr. Allworth is recognized as a dedicated and energetic teacher, who receives high praise from students and colleagues alike and is the recipient of teaching awards. Dr. Allworth is a member of several college committees. She mentors students and initiated and coordinates the college's Cadaver Memorial Service Program.

While Dr. Allworth has demonstrated teaching and mentoring skills, I cannot recommend Dr. Allworth for promotion because of ...


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