Former Texas Southern Dean Sues for Improper Firing

A law school deal stripped of her leadership position and status as a tenured professor has sued her employer for due process violations, breach of contract, retaliation, and discrimination.

Joan R. M. Bullock was fired in June 2022 from her position as dean of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University (TSU) in Houston and stripped of her faculty position. Her September 2022 complaint against the school seeks a temporary restraining order and injunctive relief, which would block her termination and reinstate her as a tenured faculty member.

Bullock is represented by Todd Slobin and Dorian Vandenberg-Rodes of Slobin Shellist Lazarz. The attorney general’s office is representing the public university.

Tenure Given at Time of Hire

When the deanship was extended to Bullock, TSU’s offer letter specifically gave her the status of a tenured professor. This is a common practice when a hiring dean. Granting tenure immediately upon hire allows the individual to remain a tenured professor should they be removed or resign from the leadership position.

Law school accreditation by the American Bar Association (ABA) typically requires the dean to be tenured. Tenure is a protected status that offers educators job security and protects the freedom to teach and conduct research.

As a tenured professor, she could not be terminated without a hearing. She was denied this right. Her lawsuit claims the university violated the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

Denied Tenure Despite Being Granted the Status

After Bullock’s complaint was filed, attorneys for the school responded in November 2022 that she was not improperly denied due process because she was never granted tenure. Bullock’s team argues that her offer letter granting tenure was approved by the Board of Regents and is a legally binding contract.

“If TSU is now changing the story in claiming that Bullock was not properly granted tenure, and this is the same process that was followed with every other dean at the university, then it is likely that under TSU’s ‘new policy,’ many other deans at the university also do not have tenure,” her attorney Todd Slobin said. “(Texas Southern is) willing to lose all credibility with every dean at the school simply to try to win on a technicality.”

At least one other TSU dean – college business dean David Chi-Chung Yen – has since learned that he, too, does not have tenure despite having been told otherwise in his offer letter. His position as dean was approved on the same day as Bullock.

Termination Was Act of Retaliation, Discrimination

In addition to being wrongly removed as a tenured professor, Bullock also contends that the school fired her as dean in retaliation for her work correcting wrongs at the school to remain accredited by the ABA. Her actions eventually led to firing the admissions dean, who is now facing criminal charges in a pay-for-admission scandal. The school’s university president, Austin Lane, was also ousted.

Discrimination also played a role in her firing. Male deans released from their leadership positions under the cloud of scandal were allowed to stay on as tenured professors.

Confront Wrongful Termination in the Workplace

Whether you are employed at a university, a manufacturing plant, or a tech start-up, state and federal laws protect employees from wrongful termination or other discriminatory employment practices.

Our experienced legal team doggedly advocates for clients treated unlawfully at work. We are committed to protecting the dignity of workers no matter their line of work.

If you are experiencing any form of discrimination in the workplace or wrongful termination, contact Shellist Lazarz Slobin in Houston. Call (713) 352-3433 to schedule a case consultation.