Tennessee Supreme Court Upholds Tenured Teacher's Termination
In a case that lasted over a decade, we represented a local school board against a tenured teacher who challenged her termination under the Tennessee Tenured Teacher Act. In 2005, the tenured teacher requested a hearing after the school board recommended her termination for unsatisfactory job performance. Under the Tenure Act, a board “shall” hold the tenure hearing within 30 days, but in this case no hearing was held for almost a year. When the hearing occurred, the school board upheld the termination. The teacher then filed a chancery court complaint challenging the decision. Specifically, she argued that her termination was invalid because the hearing was not held within 30 days as required by the Tenure Act. The chancery court upheld the school board’s termination decision. The teacher appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which upheld the termination but granted the teacher back pay due to the untimeliness of the tenure hearing. Both parties filed writs of certiorari to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which were granted.
Before the Tennessee Supreme Court, the teacher argued that, because the Tenure Act states that a tenure hearing “shall” occur within 30 days of the tenured teacher’s demand for it, and because the board did not do so for nearly a year in her case, she was entitled to reinstatement and back pay. Our position was that the timeliness issue was not properly before the Court because it had not been raised in the tenure hearing. We also argued that even if the teacher had raised the timeliness issue in the tenure hearing, the Tenure Act does not provide a remedy for an untimely hearing when a termination is ultimately upheld.
The Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously agreed with both of our positions, first holding that the Court of Appeals had improperly fashioned a back pay award when no such remedy exists under the Tenure Act, and also holding that, because the teacher failed to raise the timeliness issue at the tenure hearing, it was not properly before the court.