Benison v. Ross, No. 13-2554 (6th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
Kathleen was a tenured professor of geology at Central Michigan University (CMU). In 2011, her husband Christopher, a CMU student, sponsored a vote of no confidence in the president and provost of the university. Shortly after, in accordance with the faculty’s collective bargaining agreement, Kathleen took a semester of sabbatical leave, agreeing to return to CMU for at least a full year following sabbatical or return any compensation received during her leave. While Kathleen was on sabbatical, she became eligible for and requested a pay supplement. Her department recommended denial. The reviewing dean agreed. Kathleen appealed, but resigned before a final decision. CMU requested that Kathleen return her sabbatical compensation. When she refused, CMU sued in state court for breach of contract. Because Christopher’s tuition had been remitted for Spring 2012 as part of Kathleen’s benefits and Kathleen was contractually obligated to repay her benefits for that semester, CMU determined that Christopher had an outstanding tuition balance and placed a hold on his transcript. The couple sued in federal court alleging retaliation because of Christopher’s role in the no-confidence resolution. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part, finding sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether CMU filed suit against Kathleen and placed a hold on Christopher’s transcript in retaliation for Christopher’s exercise of his First Amendment rights. CMU, as represented by its president in his official capacity, cannot shield itself from liability by invoking qualified immunity.