Wellner v. Minnesota State Junior College Board

487 F.2d 153 (1973)

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Wellner v. Minnesota State Junior College Board

United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
487 F.2d 153 (1973)

Facts

Gary Wellner (plaintiff) coached wrestling and taught physical education at the Metropolitan State Junior College (Metro), a junior college governed by the Minnesota State Junior College Board (the board) (defendant). Wellner was up for reappointment, but Metro’s president, Robert Jensen, opted not to reappoint Wellner. Before the decision, Metro’s dean of students, James Lund, recommended to Jensen that Wellner not be reappointed. Lund referred to materials in Wellner’s file indicating that he harbored prejudice toward African Americans. The faculty review committee (the committee) conducted a review and concluded that Wellner should be reappointed. As part of its process, the committee received a file with a memorandum written by Lund that accused Wellner of being a racist. The file also contained written charges of racism from the Black Student Union on campus and the Black Student Union Basketball Team. Jensen, who came into possession of these materials, ultimately decided not to reappoint Wellner despite the committee’s recommendation. No hearing was held, and Wellner’s request for a review was denied. Minnesota state law empowered the board to decline reappointment of nontenured faculty members without holding a hearing or offering reasons. Wellner filed suit in district court, alleging a deprivation of his liberty interest under the Due Process Clause. A trial court determined that the allegations of racism against Wellner were not factually supported and were the primary reason he was not reappointed. Further, the trial court concluded that Wellner had been deprived of an interest in liberty without a hearing. The trial court awarded Wellner damages for missed salary, unless and up until he was lawfully discharged, and it directed the board to expunge anything in Wellner’s file referring to allegations of racism. The trial court opted not to order a hearing, instead ordering the board to reappoint Wellner to a similar teaching position elsewhere. In doing so, the trial court reasoned that a hearing would not adequately reflect the circumstances surrounding the allegations of racism at the time they were made. The board appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Stephenson, J.)

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