ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Professor's retaliation claims mostly survive motion to dismiss

A professor at Columbia sued the university, alleging various contract-based claims. In a recent decision, Joshi v. The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, 17-cv-4112 (JGK), the Southern District of New York permitted the claims to survive the university's motion to dismiss. 

The university argued that various employment policies did not constitute binding contracts between the parties. However, the court disagreed. The university had in place a Reservation of Rights that stated the employment handbook should not be treated as a contract. But there were factual disputes as to whether this Reservation of Rights applied to the other employment policies at issue, which did not seem to be found in the employment handbook. The parties disputed how clearly the Reservation of Rights was incorporated into the policies, and whether the Reservation of Rights was conspicuous. Therefore, the court allowed the breach of contract claim to survive the motion to dismiss (it also found that there were factual disputes about whether the university's actions were a breach of the policy). 

The court also allowed the plaintiff's claim of breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing to survive, because it was about different conduct than the breach of contract claim (regarding the university's failure to investigate and stop the retaliation at issue, rather than the retaliation itself). 

And the plaintiff's promissory estoppel claim also survived. The university argued that promissory estoppel claims do not apply to employment relationships, but the court disagreed and refused to dismiss the claim based on that alone, stating that the plaintiff was not seeking reinstatement of employment. The plaintiff's allegations, taken in the light most favorable to them, adequately pleaded promissory estoppel, so the court allowed the claim to survive. 

The court did, however, dismiss the plaintiff's claim for fraud in the inducement, finding that the plaintiff had not adequately pleaded that the university acted with an intent to deceive. 

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Labor Contracts, Recent Cases, Teaching, True Contracts | Permalink

Comments

It is necessary that we take care of these employment policies that do not constitute binding contracts between parties. The basic purposes of contracts are to set down in writing all the obligations of the parties involved. I fail to understand how a premium institution like Columbia doesn’t follow this.

Posted by: Fredrick Carter | Jun 2, 2018 1:00:08 AM

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