Arizona Summit Law School Survives Another Lawsuit -- for Now
It was a two-fer at embattled Arizona Summit Law School.
Two former professors sued the law school for breach of their employment contracts, but a federal appeals court affirmed the dismissal of their case. It was the second win this year for the school, which has been embroiled in litigation with both faculty and students.
The complaints expose, however, an ugly underbelly at the struggling law school. It is one of three for-profit law schools run by InfiLaw Systems, which is reportedly trying to unload them in the midst of controversy.
Law professors Michael O'Connor and Celia Rumann filed suit against the law school and its parent company, InfiLaw, in 2013. They alleged the school -- named Phoenix School of Law at the time -- breached their tenure agreements.
O'Connor and Rumann, a married couple, received tenure in 2010 and 2011 respectively. However, they alleged, their contracts for the 2013-2014 school year conflicted with the faculty handbook. They also complained about the school's policies on student transfers and other concerns.
A district court judge dismissed their case in 2014, and they appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal. The professors contended that the school effectively terminated them with an employment offer that changed their tenure terms.
The appeals court said the professors' interpretation of their appointment letters was "unreasonable." The offers incorporated the faculty handbook, the court said, and any differences did not apply to tenured faculty. The professors basically terminated themselves when they refused the offers.
InfiLaw's attorney applauded the victory, which included an attorney's fee award of $41,739.75. It was the school's second courtroom victory since January, when another court dismissed fraud claims alleged by a former employee but allowed the case to proceed on other grounds.
Meanwhile, all of the InfiLaw schools -- Arizona Summit, Charlotte School of Law, and Florida Coastal School of Law -- have serious problems across the board. Arizona and Charlotte have been placed on accreditation probation, and Charlotte has lost federal funding for student loans.
Students have also sued Charlotte and Florida Coastal for allegedly misleading them to rake in tuition. And in an expose by the Atlantic, the InfiLaw schools were cited as examples of the "law school scam" that sells students on the idea that they can become lawyers without preparing them for the reality.
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