Greene v. Howard Univ – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

In Greene v. Howard Univ., 134 U.S. App. D.C. 81, 412 F.2d 1128 (1969), non-tenured instructors at Howard University who had allegedly participated in on-campus disturbances claimed that, without notice to the instructors, the University had refused to renew their appointments, and that this refusal was in violation of the University's obligations as set forth in the Faculty Handbook.

Section IX of the Handbook provided that "it will be the practice of the University, without contractual obligation to do so," to give advance written notice at specified times during the academic year to instructors who would not be retained for the following academic year.

In a university setting, the necessity for such notice is apparent, for faculty members need to know in advance whether they will be retained, so that they may make timely application elsewhere in case of non-retention. The notification dates specified in the Faculty Handbook having passed, the instructors had been led to believe that their contracts would be routinely renewed. After the on-campus disturbances, however, the instructors were peremptorily notified, without opportunity for a hearing, that they would not be retained on the Howard faculty.

Reversing the trial court's decision in favor of the University, the Court of Appeals held that the contractual relationships existing here, when viewed against the regulations prescribed for, and the practices customarily followed in, their administration, required the University in the special circumstances here involved to afford the teachers an opportunity to be heard. (Greene, 134 U.S. App. D.C. at 84, 412 F.2d at 1131.)

In Greene v. Howard Univ., provisions in the university's Faculty Handbook made clear that a faculty member who was not finally informed by April 15 that his contract would not be renewed, had reason to believe that he could rely on returning to the university the following semester. 134 U.S. App. D.C. at 86-87, 412 F.2d at 1133-34.

The university argued that it had no contractual obligation to give such notice because qualifying language in the employee's handbook relieved the university of any obligation to observe its regulations to that effect. Included in the handbook was a section reading, "without contractual obligation to do so" in connection with its purpose to give employees notice by certain fixed dates. 134 U.S. App. D.C. at 87, 412 F.2d at 1134.

The D.C. Circuit rejected the argument that other provisions of the handbook were negated automatically by the disclaimer and held the disclaimer to be in conflict with a rational interpretation of the bargain between the parties. 134 U.S. App. D.C. at 88, 412 F.2d at 1135.