Site Logo

Hello, you are using an old browser that's unsafe and no longer supported. Please consider updating your browser to a newer version, or downloading a modern browser.

January 9, 2024

Understanding Recent Sixth Circuit Ruling on Emeritus Status and Due Process Rights: Peterson v. Johnson (87 F.4th 833, 6th Cir. 2023)

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided that a retired professor’s emeritus status at the Ohio State University was not a constitutionally protected property interest. See Peterson v. Johnson, 87 F.4th 833 (6th Cir. 2023). After the University investigated allegations of sexual harassment made against Peterson and issued a report that concluded he had violated university policy, it revoked his emeritus status and related benefits. See id. at 835. Peterson then sued the University, alleging a violation of his procedural due process rights. The district court dismissed Peterson’s complaint, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed this dismissal. The Sixth Circuit stated in part, “Here, Peterson does not allege that he lost pay or tangible benefits from Ohio State when it revoked his emeritus status and, therefore, we reserve for another case whether such allegations would be sufficient to establish that emeritus status is a constitutionally protected property interest. He also does not identify any aspect of Ohio State’s policies that confer pay or tangible benefits based on emeritus status. Indeed, the [Ohio Administrative] Code suggests the opposite. At Ohio State, emeritus status is an honorific title that is different in type from tenure-track faculty and non-tenure-track faculty….” Id. at 837. Peterson also claimed damage to his professional reputation, but the Sixth Circuit noted that a plaintiff asserting a liberty interest in reputation must show he or she had requested and was denied a name-clearing hearing—and the Court further noted that Peterson had not done so. Faculty members facing university investigations should be careful to assert their due process rights before filing litigation.

This publication is intended for general informational purposes only. The reader should not act upon this information without seeking professional legal counsel.