U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

School Can't Lay Off Tenured Teacher

Joe Elliott, a Dupont Elementary School teacher for almost 20 years, had a reputation for being "too rigid," "sarcastic," and "moody."

The Indiana school let him go him for his "negative effect on education," but officials had seen nothing yet. Elliott had tenure, and so he sued in Elliott v. Board of School Trustees of Madison Consolidated Schools.

After a ruling by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, it looks like good news for tenured teachers and bad news for Indiana schools trying to shed them.

Contract Clause

As the appeals court told it, it was a straight-forward case. "The Contract Clause of the United States Constitution prohibits States from passing laws 'impairing the Obligation of Contracts,'" the judges said.

In 1928, the U.S Supreme Court held that Indiana's tenure statute created contractual rights under the Contract Clause. It didn't matter that the Indiana legislature later allowed school districts to base layoffs on performance without regard to tenure.

That change violated the contractual obligations owed to Elliott and other tenured teachers like him. The appeals court said the legislature may change the law for new teachers --but not those protected by tenure earned before the change.

Performance Evaluations

Basically, the appeals panel said Indiana schools must retain qualified tenured teachers over non-tenured teachers during layoffs. The National Law Review observed, however, that nothing requires a school to wait to terminate poor-performing tenured teachers.

"As school employers prepare to conduct mid-year evaluations, this case is an important reminder to administer thorough evaluations," the Law Review said.

Elliott, who was laid off in 2012, sued to get his job back but he may not need to return. He is owed five years salary, benefits and other damages.

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