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Conservative professor-blogger wins political retaliation case at trial

This happened several weeks ago, but I’m afraid I missed it. The case is Adams v. Trustees of University of North Carolina-Wilmington; as I mentioned in 2011, when I blogged about the Fourth Circuit decision sending the case back for trial, Mike Adams is a tenured associate professor of criminology at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. He sought promotion to full professor, based partly on his political writings (and not just his original academic research), but the promotion was denied. Adams sued, claiming that the denial stemmed from faculty members’ hostility to his religion and his political views. The Fourth Circuit held that, when it comes to public university professor employment decisions, a professor speaking on matters of public concern can’t be discriminated against based in employment unless the speech is seen as unduly disruptive (under the Board of Ed v. Pickering test).

In late March, the jury ruled in Adams’ favor, finding,

[T]he plaintiff’s speech activity [was] a substantial or motivating factor in the defendants’ decision to not promote the plaintiff, [and] the defendants [would not] have reached the same decision not to promote the plaintiff in the absence of the plaintiff’s speech activity.

Last month, the district court denied the university’s motion for a new trial, concluding that “there was sufficient evidence as a matter of law presented for the jury to find for plaintiff, and accordingly denies the Rule 50 motion as to all defendants.” The court also ordered that “the defendants confer upon plaintiff full professorship as of the date of this order, with pay and benefits in the future to relate back to August 2007, when plaintiff’s 2006 promotion application would have gone into effect had it been successful,” and that defendants pay Adams “$50,000 for back-pay and prejudgment interest.” Plaintiffs have also asked for over $1 million in attorney fees, plus a much smaller amount for costs and other expenses:

The total number of hours expended in this case through the close of business on April 22, 2014 is 4,394.0, worth $1,348,214.70 in attorneys’ fees.1 In this Motion, Dr. Adams seeks attorneys’ fees for 3,341.2 hours, worth $1,025,484.20 (a reduction of almost 24%). These attorneys’ fees relate exclusively to the attorney, paralegal, and legal assistant time incurred in connection with Dr. Adams’ prosecution of claims against Defendants before this Court and before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The fees and expenses are now being considered by the judge. In the meantime, defendants have filed a notice of appeal to the Fourth Circuit. For a National Review article about the case from David French, one of Adams’ lawyers, see here. Thanks to my colleague Steve Yeazell for the pointer.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.

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