Board of Regents v. Roth


Board of Regents v. Roth (1972) is a seminal case over the due process rights of educators in public schools who are facing termination or nonrenewal of their employment contracts. When public schools dismiss teachers or choose not to renew their contracts, sometimes they do so without providing the teachers with prior notice or opportunities to be heard. These teachers usually challenge their dismissals under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which requires states to provide procedural due process, meaning notice and opportunities to be heard, before depriving individuals of their substantive due process rights to life, liberty, or property. In Roth, the Supreme Court found that nontenured educators have no right to due process if their contracts are not renewed, unless they can prove they have liberty or property interests at stake.

Facts of the Case


In Roth, officials at a state university in Wisconsin opted not to renew the contract of a nontenured faculty member at the expiration of his one-year fixedterm contract. Although university officials notified the faculty member of their decision not to renew his contract, they neither provided him with reasons for doing so nor afforded him the opportunity to any form of hearing to challenge their actions.
The faculty member filed suit, alleging that the failure of university officials to give him reasons for the nonrenewal of his contract and an opportunity to be heard violated his right to procedural due process. A federal trial court and the Seventh Circuit entered judgments in favor of the faculty member, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed in favor of the university.

The Court’s Ruling


The Court held that nontenured faculty members have no constitutional rights to a statement of reasons or to a hearing to challenge their termination. Roth stands for the rule that persons are entitled to procedural due process rights only if they have substantive due process rights in the nature of life, liberty, or property deprived by government action. In Roth, the Court gave examples or guidance for determining what constitutes liberty or property.
According to Roth, liberty interests encompass a very broad range of interests that include those in the following nonexhaustive list: the right of persons to enter into contracts, to marry, to raise children, and to enjoy privileges recognized as vital to the pursuit of happiness and to good name, reputation, or integrity. Insofar as the decision not to renew the faculty member’s contract in Roth was not based on a charge of dishonesty, immorality, or other damaging charges that could have damaged his reputation, good name, integrity, or ability to procure future employment, the Court found that the university officials’ action did not implicate his liberty interests. The Court pointed out that because the faculty member’s liberty interests were not implicated, he was not constitutionally entitled to a hearing to defend a liberty interest.
Roth also established the rule that property interests under the Due Process Clause are created by contracts, statutes, other rules or regulations, or a clearly implied promise of continued employment, but never by the Constitution. The Court explained that only those interests that persons had already acquired, at the time of the government action depriving them of their interests, in certain benefits pursuant to contracts, statutes, rules, regulations, or clearly implied promises of continued employment, are entitled to protection under the Due Process Clause. The Court noted that sometimes the terms of the property interests are spelled out in the contract or statute.
Roth stands for the proposition that educators who are tenured at the time of the termination of their contracts have property rights to their employment for the terms of the tenure. On the other hand, educators with employment contracts have property rights to their jobs only for the terms of their contracts; once the term expires, as was the case with the plaintiff in Roth, their property interest lapses. If, during the term of the tenure or contracts, educators are dismissed, they are constitutionally entitled to prior notice of the reasons for the termination of their employment and hearings, so that they can challenge the proffered reasons. In other words, pursuant to Roth, before educators can make claims to constitutional entitlements to notice of reasons for the termination or nonrenewal of their contracts and hearings to challenge those reasons, educators must establish that they had liberty or property interests at stake.
Joseph Oluwole

See also Due Process; Due Process Hearing; Due Process Rights: Teacher Dismissal
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