Penn State

Penn State College of Medicine wins in lawsuit appeal

The termination of a former associate professor from the Penn State College of Medicine stands.

That was the effect of a decision Wednesday of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals that denied the appeal of Catherine Beckwith.

She had appealed the decision of U.S. Middle District Judge Matthew W. Brann, who in 2015 ruled her termination adhered with the university’s tenure review policies and it did not constitute a breach of contract.

The position in the Department of Comparative Medicine that was offered to Beckwith in 2007 required her to devote 75 percent of her effort to research and the rest to teaching and administrative work.

The agreement with her also provided for a six-year track to tenure based on job evaluations.

Her tenure review process began in November 2008 when the chair of her department asked her to submit paperwork for her promotion and tenure dossier.

After successive independent reviews, the department’s promotion and tenure committee recommended Beckwith continue on her tenure track but Dr. Harold Paz, dean of the college of medicine, and Dr. Ronald Wilson, department chair, did not.

During a March 2009 review, Beckwith was told her research and creative accomplishments were unsatisfactory, the appeals court decision states.

Ultimately the committee agreed with Paz and Wilson. Paz on April 24, 2009, notified Beckwith she would be terminated June 30, 2010.

She challenged the review process by filing a petition with the faculty senate committee on faculty rights and responsibilities.

That committee found Beckwith’s review suffered from procedural unfairness and recommended the dossier be revised.

The revised version was recirculated, but it did not change the committee’s recommendation and Beckwith was told she would be terminated June 30, 2011.

She filed two unsuccessful appeals with the faculty rights and responsibilities committee before filing the federal lawsuit in 2012.

The lawsuit claimed she had not been afforded adequate due process and her termination after a little more than two years employment breached her agreement.

The appeals court rejected those claims and stated relative to the breach of contract argument, neither her job offer letter nor any other document established a term of employment.