DR. TONTEL OBENE APPELLANT
JACKSON STATE UNIVERSITY; DR. MELVIN DAVIS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE MISSISSIPPI URBAN RESEARCH CENTER; DR. FELIX OKOJIE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS VICE PRESIDENT FOR RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT AND FEDERAL AFFAIRS; AND MS. SANDRA SELLERS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER CAPACITY AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RESOURCES APPELLEES
OF JUDGMENT: 10/30/2015
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT, WILLIAM A.
GOWAN JR. TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: J. KEITH PEARSON SARAH LYNN DICKEY
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: ALAN M. PURDIE DION JEFFERY SHANLEY
LEE, C.J., BARNES AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.
Dr. Tontel Obene appeals the order of the circuit court
granting summary judgment to Jackson State University (JSU)
on her wrongful-termination claim. Finding no reversible
error, we affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
In September 2009, Dr. Obene was employed by JSU as the lead
epidemiologist/evaluator for the Delta Health Project, a
research project coordinated by the Mississippi Urban
Research Center (MURC), a division of JSU. The project was
funded by a five-year grant for HIV prevention from the
Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC provided funding
to the Mississippi Department of Health (MDH), and in turn,
MDH contracted with MURC to perform part of the evaluation
work under the grant. At all relevant times, Dr. Obene's
supervisor was Dr. Melvin Davis, the director of MURC and the
project director for the grant.
At the time relevant to this appeal, Dr. Obene's
employment with JSU was tied directly to her work on the
grant project and characterized by a letter of employment
dated August 20, 2010, which read, in pertinent part:
This is to inform you of your continued employment on the
staff of Jackson State University as
Epidemiologist/Evaluator, MS Urban Research Center, at a
salary of $60, 000 per annum (pro-rata), effective for the
period of July 1, 2010 and extending through September 29,
Please note that Jackson State University, the employer,
reserves the right to terminate your employment and/or
decrease the salary specified at any time by giving one
dates of employment stated in the letter directly
corresponded with the phases of the five-year grant, which
was renewable every year. The first phase was set to expire
on September 29, 2010.
The grant was extended for a period of three months,
September 30, 2010, through December 31, 2010. Dr. Obene was
assigned to complete the application for the three-month
continuation phase. One of Dr. Obene's job
responsibilities included drafting the budget proposal for
the next phase of the grant project's continuation.
During the first phase of the project, Dr. Davis received 2%
of the grant funds for his supervisory role. For the
continuation phase, Dr. Davis requested that Dr. Obene submit
the application with a proposed increase to 10% for his
extra-duty pay because he anticipated a greater ...