The former dean of Thurgood Marshall Law School at Texas Southern University filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday against the university’s board of regents claiming that her abrupt dismissal in June from her positions — both as dean and as tenured faculty — was without cause or due process and a product of gender discrimination.
The former dean, Joan Bullock, asked that the school be temporarily enjoined from dismissing her from her tenured teaching position and that the school be required to afford her a hearing before a faculty committee to air both the reasons for her dismissal and her defenses against them.
According to the lawsuit filed in Houston, Bullock was hired to both positions in July 2019. The university, at the time, was embroiled in a “pay-for-admission” scandal which ultimately resulted in the dismissal of several school officials, including Austin Lane, president of the university, along with his deputy, Wendell Williams.
According to Bullock’s lawsuit — which included the letter from the university confirming the terms of her hiring — Bullock terminated the school’s associate dean for admissions, who was ultimately replaced by consultant Michelle Rahman. Rahman had conducted an internal review that led to changes in the system of admissions, methods of payment and scholarship policies that had allowed the mismanagement of scholarship funds. Bullock’s lawsuit alleges that the implementation of those policies was hobbled by the university’s persistent refusal to allow appropriate expenditures of school funds, and its subsequent refusal to allow Rahman to remain in a consultancy when she was forced to leave fulltime employment because of health concerns.
Despite what she described as her successes, Bullock said she was confronted on June 10 by acting provost Lillian Poats, vice president Yolanda Edmond and the university’s general counsel Hao Le who presented her with a written severance agreement — backed only with the bare-bones explanation that the university had decided to move in “a different direction.”
When Bullock refused to sign the agreement, she was told that she would be terminated for cause, according to the lawsuit. According to Bullock’s lawsuit, the only mention of cause was cryptic: “Poats brought up that Bullock co-taught an experimental online asynchronous class, as well as ‘Michelle Rahman.’ Neither allegation or allusion constituted anything close to good cause to terminate Bullock or strip Bullock of tenure.”
Bullock, who is the first woman law dean in the school’s 75-year history, alleges that her termination stands “in stark contrast” to the treatment afforded her male predecessors. When Bullock demanded a hearing before the school’s Faculty Hearing Committee, the school “failed and refused to respond.”
“Unlike TSU’s treatment of all of Bullock’s male predecessors, TSU terminated Bullock from its faculty, violated her tenure rights, publicly damaged her reputation, and refused her an opportunity to vindicate herself,” Bullock’s petition alleges.
Bullock’s lawsuit is one of a growing number of lawsuits attacking due process at Texas universities. Just this week, the Supreme Court of Texas heard oral arguments in challenges from graduates at Texas State University and the University of Texas whose advanced degrees were rescinded by administrative processes they allege were unconstitutional.
Bullock is being represented by Todd Slobin and Dorian Vandenberg-Rodes of Shellist Lazarz Slobin.