Since University policies did not address non-tenured professor’s situation, she was deemed an “at-will” employee with no entitlement to due process

Lawrence Schovanec, as President of Texas Tech University, and Texas Tech University v. Fariba Assadi-Porter, 07-17-00426-CV (Tex. App. – Amarillo, March 20, 2018)

This is a due process in employment case where the Amarillo Court of Appeals reversed the denial of the University’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the case.

Assadi-Porter was on a twelve-month, non-tenure track as an associate profession at Texas Tech University (“University”). She received a notice of termination at one point and was told she could grieve the termination. She asserts she relied upon the advice of human resource personnel and met with her supervisors to contest the termination. By the time she formally grieved the termination, the University deemed her grievance untimely. She sued the University and the President asserting due process violations. The University and President filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which as denied. They appealed.

A two-part test applies to due process claims: 1) does the plaintiff have a recognized liberty or property interest and 2) if so, what process is due. In the employment context, a recognized property interest exists when an employee can only be dismissed for cause.  Under Texas law, an employment relationship is presumed to be at-will, and an employer may terminate at-will employees “for good cause, for bad cause, or no cause.” An at-will employment relationship creates no property interest in continued employment. A faculty member’s employment is subject to her contract and the school’s operational policies. The University’s policies state that for non-tenure professors, they can either be terminated for cause prior to the expiration of her term, or non-renewed at the close of a term. However, the court held the policies must not be read in isolation and the next policy in the manual states the dismissal provision applies only to non-tenured faculty who have served more than six years. Assadi-Porter served for less than two.  As a result, since no specific contract or policy adoption applies to Assadi-Porter, she is presumed to be an at-will employee and has no property interest in continued employment.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Quinn, Justice Pirtle and Justice Parker. Memorandum Opinion by Judge Parker. The attorney listed for Assadi-Porter is J. Craig Johnston. The attorney listed for the University and President is Enrique M. Varela.