A federal judge has ordered the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW) to pay $710,000 in legal fees to the lawyers who represented a conservative professor who was denied a promotion for his political and religious views.
I recently talked with professor Mike Adams, who teaches criminology at the state-run school. He is also a syndicated columnist who writes about the issues of the day from a conservative perspective.
Give all of us a bit of the history of the case. In 2006, I was denied a promotion to full professor despite the fact that I’d won Professor of the Year at UNC Wilmington twice before I converted to Christianity. It was really a no-brainer for me to file a lawsuit alleging First Amendment retaliation because I’d been involved in a pretty high-profile email privacy case where the university had read some private emails in response to my constitutionally protected speech. So we filed the lawsuit and moved forward slowly through a process. It took a couple of years, actually, for us to get through the discovery process. When we moved from finding the circumstantial evidence to the point of actually finding some direct evidence, that’s when the case actually got very interesting.
You filed the case in 2006. Discovery, which is the process of both sides getting all of the information that they need to prepare their cases, took a couple of years, and the breakthrough came in what year? They actually made an argument that was bought by the district judge, Malcolm Howard, that my columns were not protected by the First Amendment. … I’d mentioned the column on my promotion application. They made the argument that that [mention] stripped it of First Amendment protection. The judge bought that argument in 2010 and threw the case out of court. That sent us to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to fight over the issue as to whether or not my speech had been transformed from constitutionally protected to an official duty simply by mentioning it on my promotion application. In 2011, we went before the 4th Circuit, and it was interesting. The attorney general of North Carolina made this very broad argument that they had a right, if people had written opinion columns and then mentioned them in any way in their promotion applications, they could go through and sort and differentiate between pro-lifers and pro-choicers. The university made this very broad statement about their authority to engage in viewpoint discrimination concerning the things that were on the promotion application. It was a very interesting First Amendment battle. We won that in a unanimous decision in 2011, and the result of that was that we eventually won a right to go to trial.
So you filed the case, it was thrown out, you appealed that and won the right again to bring the case. We won that legal appeal. The university then filed a motion for summary judgment saying, we argued that we had the authority to discriminate on the basis of the content in the columns, but we didn’t really do that in this particular case. This whole wrangling just went back and forth for a number of years, and then finally, in 2013, the university was denied summary judgment. We were forced into mediation. All of this resulted in a trial that took place in May 2014.
And you won that trial. We did. We won that case, and, to the best of my knowledge, that’s the only time a conservative has ever gone and taken on a secular university and won in a jury trial. Now, I know there have been settlements, but this is a very different kind of case. It was a jury of my peers that spoke, and we won.
So you won back pay, the difference between what you would have been paid as a full professor, and your lawyers won big, right? In this case, I actually had tenure before, and this was just promotion to full professor. … A $5,000-a-year pay increase was all that was at stake. Just a few days ago, the university was ordered to pay $710,000 in legal fees and so, it’s interesting, they were willing to spend a lot of money to prevent this promotion, and it’s been a tremendous victory.