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Andrew Ortony v. Northwestern University

November 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge George M. Marovich


Plaintiff Andrew Ortony ("Prof. Ortony") filed a two-count complaint against Northwestern University. In his complaint, Prof. Ortony asserts claims for age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") and for breach of contract. Defendant moves to dismiss plaintiff's claims. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants defendant's motion.

I. Background

For purposes of this motion to dismiss, the Court takes as true the allegations in Prof. Ortony's complaint.

From 1989 until earlier this year, Prof. Ortony was a tenured Professor of Psychology, Education and Social Policy, and Computer Science at defendant Northwestern University. According to the Northwestern University Faculty Handbook, "[t]enure signifies appointment for an indefinite period." Prof. Ortony alleges that, as a tenured professor, he could be discharged from employment only for cause.

In the spring of 2007, Prof. Ortony requested permission for an academic leave of absence at a foreign university. Prof. Ortony met with Professor Penelope Peterson ("Prof. Peterson"), the dean of Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy, to discuss his request.

Before requesting a leave, Prof. Ortony had given no thought to his retirement. After the meeting with Prof. Peterson, Prof. Peterson sent Prof. Ortony a letter. The letter stated, in relevant part: June 19, 2007

Professor Andrew Ortony School of Education and Social Policy Northwestern University Annenberg Hall Evanston, IL 60208 Dear Andrew: I am writing to confirm the proposal we began discussing last month and finalized in subsequent conversations during late May and early June.

At your request, I will accept your resignation from the Northwestern University faculty effective with your retirement on August 31, 2012. In recognition of your many years of service to the School of Education and Social Policy (SESP), I will recommend your appointment as an unsalaried Professor Emeritus effective immediately thereafter.

Between now and your retirement on August 31, 2012, the following terms will apply: During the Fall of academic year 2007-08, you will teach your regular course(s) and be fully active, in-service, and in residence.

You will begin a leave of absence in Winter quarter 2007-08 through Fall quarter 2008-09. This will constitute a paid leave of absence at your full salary. The School will pay your summer salary as usual during the summer of 2008. Per our agreement, during this time, you will continue to direct the Master of Arts (MA) program in Learning Sciences (LS). I will, however, appoint another faculty member to co-direct the program during this period. We expect you to return to campus two or three times to attend to program matters and be accessible via email and/or for the occasional phone call during your leave to advise me, program staff, and your co-director with regard to MA LS issues.

Effective with your return in Winter quarter 2008-09, and through 2010-11, your appointment and all associated responsibilities will remain as they are at present. You will fulfill your responsibilities for your full teaching load. During this period, you will also continue to discharge such faculty responsibilities as advising, attendance at faculty meetings, committee service, etc. I will also ask that you resume independently directing our MA program in Learning Sciences. That appointment will be ongoing for as long as we mutually agree on that assignment.

During academic year 2011-12, you will receive a paid leave of absence at your full salary. As usual, the salary will be distributed in twelve monthly installments. During this leave you will remain eligible for University benefits, including University contributions to health insurance plans at the full-time, active level. The University will also continue to make retirement contributions. The leave of absence means you will not be required to be in residence or to teach during academic year 2011-12. In addition, the School will continue to guarantee--or pay--your summer salary through the summer of 2012. As is always the case, for this final summer or any time between now and then, should you have external funding available to support your summer salary, we would certainly appreciate the opportunity to supplant internal funding and reallocate those funds to other worthwhile purposes in the School.

If you wish to retire from, or for any other reasons terminate your appointment with, the University prior to August 31, 2012, you of course may do so. Having agreed to provide a paid leave of absence during calendar year 2008, however, we do expect that you will return to campus and to active service on our faculty at the end of that leave, and that you will continue for a minimum of three academic quarters before initiating any changes to this plan that would result in your earlier departure. Allowing for that, I will support a request to retire earlier than August 31, 2012, and still provide a paid leave of absence during the final ...

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