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Harris v. Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learing

January 14, 1999

ROSETTA HARRIS
v.
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF STATE INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARING, WILLIAM SUTTON, W. E. THOMAS, SALIBA MUKURO AND VINCE VENTARINI



Before Prather, C.j., McRAE And Waller, JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Prather, Chief Justice

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/09/1997 TRIAL JUDGE: HON. GRAY EVANS COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: LEFLORE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - STATE BOARDS AND AGENCIES

DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND REMANDED - 1/14/1999

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

¶1. Rosetta Harris ("Harris") began her employment at Mississippi Valley State University ("MVSU") in August, 1977 as an instructor in the social work department. Harris' career at MVSU progressed and, in June, 1994 she was granted tenure by the MVSU tenure promotion committee. That same month, she signed an employment contract for the position of Program Coordinator for the Department of Criminal Justice/Social Work for the period beginning August 1994 and ending May 1995. The contract included the following language:

This employment contract is subject to the following terms and conditions.

1. The laws of the State of Mississippi and the policies and by-laws of the Board. ... 3. The Board [of the Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning] shall have the authority to terminate this contract at any time for the following:

a. Financial exigencies ...

b. Termination or reduction of programs, academic or administrative units ...

c. Malfeasance, inefficiency or contumacious conduct.

d. For cause.

Following Harris' appointment as program coordinator, a dispute arose regarding the accreditation of the MVSU social work program. The program was accredited by a Virginia organization, the Council on Social Work Education ("CSWE"), which sets standards for the hiring of faculty members. Harris became concerned with the hiring of Dr. Mohammad Hoque, who lacked a masters of social work degree and who had never practiced social work. Harris notified CSWE of Dr. Hoque's lack of credentials, and CSWE responded with an inquiry into MVSU's accreditation in late August and September of 1994. On October 28, 1994, William W. Sutton, President of MVSU, notified Harris that "it is my decision to terminate your appointment as Coordinator of Social Work. This change is effective immediately. Your salary will be unchanged for this academic year."

ΒΆ2. On November 28, 1994 Harris filed a complaint in federal court, alleging that her removal from the position of coordinator was in retaliation for her written response to CSWE and in violation to her rights of due process of law. By memorandum opinion dated September 22, 1995, Judge William H. Barbour, Jr. dismissed Harris' federal law claims with prejudice on summary judgment, but he dismissed Harris' pendent state law claims without prejudice. Harris v. Mississippi Valley State Univ., 899 F. Supp. 1561, 1577 (N.D. Miss. 1995). On November 9, 1995, Harris filed a complaint with the Leflore County Circuit Court for breach of contract, wrongful termination, and emotional distress arising out of her removal as program coordinator. On September 9, ...


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