$666 Is Not the Magic Number. Sixth Circuit Denies Law Prof’s Retaliation Claim.

This is one of those "stranger than fiction" stories perfectly timed as we move into the devilish Halloween season.

On Tuesday, the Sixth Circuit ruled in Lifter v. Cleveland State University . The case involved law professor Sheldon Gelman, and his wife, Jean Lifter, an Assistant Dean at the Law School. In 2011, a new Dean, Craig Boise was hired at the school. In the midst of the recession, Boise was tasked with dealing with declining enrollment and budget issues. In 2012, he unveiled a new plan that included reduced class size, expense cuts, faculty attrition, and tuition increases. Faculty were dubious about the plan and Gelman began an effort to unionize the faculty. It was successful, and in June 2013, the SERB certified the bargaining unit. Though he did not publically oppose the effort, Boise did criticize Gelman at a staff meeting, saying "Shame on you" in response to Gelman reportedly pumping Boise's staff for info on him.

In 2013, shortly after the union drive, Boise tallied the merit raises for the faculty. After series of calculations, he awarded Gelman and several of the other union organizers merit increases of $666. In 2014, Jean Lifter, Gelman's wife, who was an Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs at the Law School, was terminated. The move came after enrollment continued to decline and more cuts were needed, but Lifter's position was the only one eliminated. Lifter filed a grievance, which was denied. She and her husband then filed Unfair Labor Practice Charges with SERB, arguing the Lifter was terminated because of Gelman's unionizing activities. (In 2015, Lifter retired after being offered a buyout.) Lifter and Gelman then filed suit in the federal district court, alleging the school violated their First and Fourteenth amendment rights.  The suit was dismissed in August 2016.  

In the appeal, Lifter and Gelman argue that "his raise of $666 was an intentional invocation of the biblical 'mark of the beast' and intended to punish him and the other union organizers."  More to the point though, he argued that his raise was affected because Boise refused to appoint him to several key committees, which reduced his overall rating. The Sixth Circuit did not buy the argument, accepting Boise's statements that the raises as originally submitted were $727, but had to be recalculated, and that faculty not involved in the union organizing received the same raise., affirming the district's court's opinion. As to Lifter's claims, the court ruled that she lacked third-party standing to raise the retaliation claim.