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Fagal v. Marywood University

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 16, 2015

FREDERICK F. FAGAL, Plaintiff,
v.
MARYWOOD UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

A. Richard Caputo, United States District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendant Marywood University’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 14) the Amended Complaint (Doc. 7) of Plaintiff Professor Frederick Fagal. Defendant seeks to dismiss Plaintiff’s sole claim, for breach of contract, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

Because Plaintiff has plead sufficient facts to state a plausible claim that Defendant breached its contract with him, as embodied in the University’s policies and procedures, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 14) Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (Doc. 7) for failure to state a claim upon which r elief can be granted will be denied.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

The facts, as alleged in the Amended Complaint (Doc. 7), are as follows:

1. Plaintiffs Employment with Marywood University

Defendant Marywood University (“Marywood, ” “the University”) is a Pennsylvania domestic non-profit corporation located in Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 7, ¶ 1.) In 1992, Plaintiff Frederick Fagal entered into an Agreement and Appointment for Full-Time Faculty with Marywood. (Id., ¶ 10.) The agreement, later called the “Faculty Handbook, ” includes that the “policies and practices listed in the Faculty Manual are agreed upon by the parties hereto.” (Id.) Plaintiff Fagal and Marywood entered into written agreements for him to work as a full-time faculty member for each year between 1992 and 2012. (Id., ¶ 12.) Plaintiff Fagal attained tenure at Marywood in September 1994. (Id., ¶ 13.)

On July 1, 2010, Maryood issued an edition of its faculty handbook, which stated that it was “effective with the 2010-2011 letters of agreement.” (Id., ¶ 14.) It also stated that “Policy changes require the approval of the President of the University and, when required, the Board of Trustees. . . They are effective with formal approval and placement in the Marywood University Policies and Procedure Manual.” (Id.)

In May 2011, Plaintiff Fagal entered into an agreement with Marywood that he would work as a tenured Associate Professor from August 22, 2011 to May 18, 2012. (Id., ¶ 15.) This agreement is attached to Plaintiffs Amended Complaint (Doc. 7) as Exhibit C. At the time, Marywood had a policy which Plaintiff asserts covered this agreement, which stated that this type of agreement is a “binding contract covering a specific period of time and as a vehicle to renew, adjust, and/or alter the terms of the original contract regarding appointment, rank, tenure, salary, benefits, etc.” (Id., ¶ 16.) This policy, attached to the Amended Complaint as Exhibit D, also stated that “[t]enure is a term designating guaranteed continuous appointment to full-time faculty members until retirement.” (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that upon attaining tenure, his employment could only be terminated in conformance with Marywood’s Policies and Procedures Manual. (Id., ¶ 17.)

2. The Underlying Controversy

In November 2011, Plaintiff invited a speaker to his “Introduction to Social Science” course to give a talk on “Know Your Rights: Free Speech and Thought Reform on Campus.” (Id., ¶ 18.) Plaintiff received approval from the University to hang posters, for which he personally paid, announcing this lecture and inviting all students to attend. (Id., ¶ 19.) On or around November 28-29, University personnel took down almost all of these posters. (Id., ¶ 20.) Plaintiff was not informed before or after the posters were taken down. (Id.)

Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff complained to Marywood’s Vice President for Academic Affairs, who could not identify any written policy statement behind the decision to take down the posters. (Id., ¶ 21.) Plaintiff Fagal sought an apology and reimbursement for the torn-down posters from the school, but officials refused. (Id., ¶ 22.)

On January 13, 2012, Plaintiff sent an email from his personal address to Marywood faculty criticizing the administration for taking down his posters, and for “its weak commitment to free speech generally.” (Id., ¶ 23.) It also contained hyperlinks to two videos he had posted online which criticized Marywood President Sister Anne Munley and other administrators for the same reasons. (Id.)

3. Disciplinary Actions

On January 23, 2012, Plaintiff Fagal was summoned to a meeting with President Munley. (Id., ¶ 24.) President Munley asked him whether he had posted the online videos included in his email to faculty, and he acknowledged that he had. (Id., ¶ 26.) Plaintiff asserts that President Munley asked him to explain his actions, but did not allow him to discuss the tear-down of his posters. (Id.) He felt that he was unable to explain if he could not discuss the posters. (Id.) President Munley then informed Plaintiff that his employment was suspended, effective immediately, and instructed him to turn in his keys and ID card. (Id.) That day, the Assistant Vice President for Human Resources emailed Plaintiff confirming his suspension and telling him to clean out his office. (Id., ¶ 27.)

The next day, January 24, President Munley sent Professor Fagal a letter informing him that she was recommending that his tenure and employment with the University be terminated. (Id., ¶ 32.) Included in this letter was a “statement of charges” against Plaintiff. (Id., ¶ 33.) However, part of the charge statement was missing, so Plaintiffs attorney requested a new copy, which he received on February 8. (Id., ΒΆ 36.) This included a charge that ...


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