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University’s Decision To Terminate Long-Time Professor Upheld Due To Documentation Of Attendance And Performance Concerns
Dr. Christian Fugar was employed with Dillard University from 1988 until he was terminated on November 6, 2017. He was an Associate Professor of Economics and Finance. On August 15, 2017, Dr. Fugar informed his immediate supervisor that he received a jury duty summons for the week of August 21, 2017, which happened to be the same week that classes began at the University. The University approved his leave and instructed Dr. Fugar to provide an updated summons if the service was extended. The University also requested that Dr. Fugar provide the University and his students with a course syllabus prior to the start of classes, but he failed to do so.
Dr. Fugar appeared for his jury service on August 22, 2017, and was selected to serve as a juror. On August 26, 2017, the presiding judge dismissed the jurors and instructed them to return the following Tuesday in light of Hurricane Harvey’s anticipated landfall. Between August 23, 2017, and September 7, 2017, the University did not hear from Dr. Fugar, despite sending him multiple email requests for his syllabus. On September 8, 2017, a University administrator made contact with Dr. Fugar, who indicated that he was still on jury duty. The same day, the University contacted the courthouse and learned that the jurors were not expected to return for jury service until October because the courthouse sustained damages from the hurricane.
On September 8, 2017, the University sent Dr. Fugar a letter informing him that he was suspended without pay and that termination proceedings were being initiated against him. On September 13, 2017, Dr. Fugar contacted the courthouse, and the court informed him that the trial would not resume until October. Dr. Fugar returned to the University’s campus on September 18, 2017. The presiding judge sent a letter to the University on September 19, 2017, confirming that Dr. Fugar served as a juror on August 22-25, that the trial was postponed, and that his presence was not required in court until October. Following a termination hearing, Dr. Fugar was terminated.
Dr. Fugar filed suit against the University, alleging that the University terminated his employment on the basis of his jury service. The University argued that it terminated Dr. Fugar due to a pattern of missed classes and mandatory University functions dating years prior to his jury service. The trial court agreed with the University and granted summary judgment for the University, dismissing the suit in its entirety. Dr. Fugar appealed.
The Court of Appeal noted that during the motion for summary judgment hearing, the University introduced evidence from depositions that established that Dr. Fugar failed to teach a portion of his required classes and that the University had brought charges against Dr. Fugar based on information compiled from 2015-2017. The University introduced the Faculty Handbook and numerous emails and correspondence documenting complaints made against Dr. Fugar. The Handbook outlined that the University would institute termination procedures for professional misconduct, which includes flagrant disregard of the policies and procedures of the University, and continued neglect of academic duties and responsibilities. Dr. Fugar admitted to receiving multiple complaints from the University regarding his absence from classes and harassment of other faculty members. He also admitted that he did not contact his supervisor from August 25 to September 8 to provide an update on his jury service or circumstances and that as of September 8, three weeks into the semester, he had not provided a syllabus to his classes or made an effort needed to create a syllabus. He admitted that he did not come to campus until a month after classes had begun, and only after termination proceedings had been initiated.
The Court of Appeal determined that this evidence established that he failed to perform his job duties both prior to and after his jury service. The Court of Appeal upheld the motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case.
Fugar v. Dillard University (La. Ct. App., Feb. 13, 2023) 2023 WL 1960835 (unpublished).
Note: This case emphasizes how important it is for schools to maintain accurate and thorough documentation of employee performance concerns so that schools can rebut claims of wrongful termination.