Lamar wins jurisdiction appeal but professor's tenure suit continues

David Yates Feb. 22, 2011, 3:41am

Late least year, Lamar University filed an appeal in the Ninth Court of Appeals of Texas, hoping to reverse a ruling denying it sovereign immunity in a discrimination lawsuit.

On Feb. 17, the Ninth Court issued an opinion reversing the trial court's denial of Lamar's plea to the jurisdiction motion, but did affirm part of the lower court's order on the retaliation claim.

As the Southeast Texas Record previously reported, in February 2008, Michael Jordan, a Lamar University professor, brought a discrimination suit against the college, alleging he was denied tenure because of his gender.

Contending the university is protected by sovereign immunity, Lamar submitted a plea to the jurisdiction in response to the suit.

On May 24, 2010, Jefferson County Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court, denied the college's motion, prompting the appeal.

On appeal, Lamar argued that it "is entitled to sovereign immunity from Jordan's discrimination claim because he failed to timely file his claim with the Texas Commission on Human Rights not later than 180 days after learned of the department's allegedly discriminatory votes against the tenure promotion," the university's appeals brief states.

Court papers show that Jordan applied for tenure on Nov. 14, 2005, and was rejected the following month. He then filed his charge of discrimination on Dec. 7, 2006 - seven months past the 180-day deadline.

Jordan contends that it is the receipt of the formal notification that his tenure was denied on Sept. 21, 2006, that triggers the 180-day limitations period, court papers say.

"Jordan cannot rely on ... equitable exception to revive claims he could have brought timely; therefore, Jordan's expired claims are dismissed," states the Ninth Court's opinion, authored by Justice Charles Kreger.

"Since Jordan also alleged acts of retaliation that fall within the 180-day statutory limitations period, the trial court did not err in denying Lamar's plea to the jurisdiction as to those discrete acts that are alleged to have occurred after June 2006."

Justice David Gaultney offered a dissenting opinion, writing that he concurred with the majority's decision to reverse Judge Floyd's denial of Lamar' plea to the jurisdiction, but disagreed over affirming the retaliation claim.

"The formal notice was a predicable consequence of the decision to "not recommend Jordan for tenure, a decision Jordan though was discriminatory," Justice Gaultney wrote. "We should reverse the trial court's order in its entirety and dismiss the lawsuit."

Case background

In his suit, Jordan says she was an assistant professor in the criminal justice department and was granted two years' credit toward tenure when he accepted the position at Lamar.

In 2005, Jordan's tenure application was denied, despite the fact that his teaching evaluation scores were higher than other faculty members in the criminal justice department, he claims in his suit.

He alleges the year before his application was denied, the university granted tenure to a female professor in his department, and that he has been routinely treated disparately from his female counterparts.

Jordan also claims that the university has a pattern of not hiring male applicants to faculty positions, court papers say.

He is seeking back pay and lost benefits, reinstatement and tenure, compensatory damages, attorneys' fees, interest and court costs. The plaintiff is also requesting that the university be enjoined from engaging in future acts that are in violation of anti-discrimination laws.

Anthony P. Griffin of Galveston is representing Jordan.

Lamar is represented in part by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Trial case No. E181-188
Appeals case No. 09-10-00292

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