A former professor who was denied a tenured teaching position cannot pursue a lawsuit against the University because she did not exhaust Yale’s own internal grievance system, a New London judge ruled Oct. 29.
Susan Neiman, a former philosophy professor, filed a lawsuit against the University in 1997 for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and negligent misrepresentation. The case stemmed from an incident in 1995, when Neiman asked to be considered for a tenured job but did not receive the position. New London Superior Court Judge Ian McLachlan dismissed the negligent misrepresentation charge last month because Neiman did not make full use of the University’s internal grievance procedures before filing suit.
McLachlan dismissed Neiman’s two other charges in September. Last month, he reconsidered the remaining charge and dismissed it as well.
McLachlan told the Connecticut Law Tribune that he dismissed the charges because Neiman was subject to Yale’s internal grievance procedures before her charges could be heard in court.
Neiman could not be reached for comment.
Yale General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said the ruling showed that the University, not the legal system, was the proper venue for the case.
“The result in this case is an important one because it promotes judicial economy,” Robinson said. “Courts should not be burdened with law suits that are brought by people whose complaints could have been reviewed and possibly resolved through an internal grievance procedure that was available to them.”
Robinson said it is rare for professors to sue over tenure issues as Neiman did. She said Yale’s system for dealing with grievances has been effective.
“The grievance procedure is there in order to have a direct means of reviewing a decision where the individual feels the process was unfair or otherwise did not conform with university policy,” Robinson said.
Deputy Provost Charles Long said the University usually averages one complaint a year.
According to Yale’s Faculty Handbook, a review procedure is available for any faculty member who believes that a University policy has not been properly observed in a case of reappointment or promotion, or that he or she has not been fairly considered. Complaint procedures over reappointment or promotion are also available to faculty members who believe they have experienced discrimination.
The grievance process outlined in the Faculty Handbook has several steps. If the problem cannot be resolved in an informal consultation with the person responsible, the faculty member can file a written complaint with the desired redress to the dean of the appointments committee. The dean then conducts an informal investigation, which may result in a committee hearing. The faculty member can also appeal to the provost, who can forward the complaint to a Review Committee.
Long said the standing Review Committee cannot overturn the academic judgments of the department.
“The fact of the matter is that these things are typically judgment calls,” Long said.