Prof jokes about shooting students; wins breach of contract claim
Case name: Eckel v. Bowling Green State University, No. 2007-02815 (Ohio Ct. Cl. 06/11/10).
Ruling: The Ohio Court of Claims granted judgment to Norman Eckel, holding that Bowling Green State University breached his employment contract by suspending him without pay in violation of the university’s academic charter.
What it means: A university must follow the rules and procedures of its academic charter in disciplining professors. Failure to do so constitutes a breach of contract.
Summary: Eckel was a tenured associate professor of accounting at Bowling Green State University.
While teaching a class in 2005, he had a confrontation with a student who arrived late.
A number of students who were present during the incident filed complaints against Eckel alleging that he made a gesture with his hand, as if he were pointing a gun to his own head, and said, “Duh.” Immediately afterward, Eckel allegedly stated to his class words to the effect of: “No, I shouldn’t shoot myself. I should bring my AK-47 to class and shoot all of you.”
Eckel was suspended without loss of pay while the university investigated the allegations.
On April 13, the investigative panel issued its findings. The panel found that it was more likely than not that the students’ allegations were true and that Eckel’s conduct violated university policies. As a result, Eckel was suspended without pay from May 7, 2005, until Jan. 1, 2006.
On Aug. 22, Eckel informed the university that he wished to file a grievance against the decision to suspend him without pay. On Sept. 24, Eckel suffered a stroke. On Jan. 20, 2006, he submitted a grievance petition.
On Nov. 15, 2006, the faculty review board found that Eckel had been denied due process. On Dec. 19, 2006, the university rejected Eckel’s grievance because it was not filed within the time limits set forth in the academic charter. However, the university also ruled that Eckel’s suspension without pay was not done in accordance with established procedures.
Eckel then filed suit for breach of contract. After trial, the court concluded that Eckel proved that the university breached his employment contract by imposing an unpaid suspension that was not authorized by the academic charter. The court also held that the disciplinary measures as outlined in the policy prohibiting workplace violence were not followed. As a result, the court entered judgment for Eckel.