High court orders UNLV to keep twice-fired professor
December 29, 2004
The Nevada Supreme Court has ordered the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to keep a professor fired twice following negative work evaluations.
In a ruling Tuesday, the court upheld a 2002 jury verdict in favor of Professor Richard Sutton.
Sutton’s lawyer, Daniel Marks, called the ruling significant for tenured professors statewide.
Richard Linstrom, general counsel for the university, downplayed it as narrowly drawn, with little widespread application.
Sutton was first fired in 1992 after disputing two consecutive negative job reviews. He filed a lawsuit in 1993, saying the firing was unjust. A jury agreed in 1999, ordering that he get back pay, benefits and attorney fees.
When he returned to work, Sutton was fired again. He sued again, and a second jury said in February 2002 that he should get his job back, plus back pay and compensatory damages.
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The University and Community College System of Nevada appealed the verdict, while Sutton returned to work at UNLV. He is now an associate professor of public administration.
University lawyers argued that employment decisions are discretionary, and the university was immune from civil liability. The system also argued that errors were made during the trial.
The unanimous court decision was written by Clark County District Judge Michelle Leavitt serving in place of her father, the late Justice Myron Leavitt. It found Sutton legally entitled to sue the university for breach of contract, and said juries should decide contract disputes.
The court rejected the claim of errors in the trial and faulted UNLV President Carol Harter for conducting a hearing to fire Sutton under his 1999 contract based on events that predated the contract.