Paper Chase: Former Tenured Nova Professor Sues Law School Over Firing Based on Alleged Mental Derangement

Anthony Chase, a former tenured professor at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center in Florida is suing the law school for firing him due to its fear that he was “mentally deranged enough to engage in a campus shooting rampage.” His attorney has charged that the school not only did not give him a fair investigation but “buried the entire paper trail” to justify the termination. The lawsuit raises a novel claim under Americans with Disabilities Act alleging that Chase was fired based on the school’s perception of a mental disability.

Chase was fired after colleagues reported in 2010 that he made worrisome statements about guns and shooting. The school referenced an email where Chase complained to a colleague about the treatment by facilities maintenance staffers and mentioned his acquisition of “a large Beretta hand gun” and a scheduled “how to shoot” course. Chase insists that these communications were misconstrued, meant as jokes, and that he has never owned a gun.

The case has already generated some tough issues including a ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Seltzer that the law school did not have to turn over material from witness interviews conducted during its internal investigation; an executive summary prepared by an attorney retained by the school to investigate the matter; or several memos and e-mails regarding the matter. All were found properly withheld under the work product privilege. That is the paper trial that Chase’s lawyer said he needed to establish the violation.

In addition to claiming to own a Beretta 8000, Chase reportedly said after he was put on administrative leave that “I can shoot pretty good from the windows into the parking lot.” Yet, Chase insists that this was a joke based on the statement of a FBI investigator of the Beltway sniper that he would zig zag on the way to his car.

In addition to the ADA, he makes contractual arguments based on the guarantees of tenure.

The contractual claim seems stronger. However, courts tend to be reluctant to second guess internal investigations. Chase however is arguing that these statements are insufficient as a basis for termination of a tenured law professor. Notably, Chase was not charged with criminal threats or stalking or any crime. Few would quibble with the wisdom of the suspension, but should the law school establish that the threats were intentional (and not jokes) before terminating a tenured professor? Likewise, should a professor accused of mental instability be afforded a leave of action for treatment before termination?

Source: NLJ as first seen on ABA Journal

17 thoughts on “Paper Chase: Former Tenured Nova Professor Sues Law School Over Firing Based on Alleged Mental Derangement”

  1. I was lucky to be his student. The few simplified concepts he taught us make us all much better lawyers.

    He is eccentric. Unorthodox. Witty. Funny. Friendly. Approachable. Brilliant beyond any description one can write. Harmless in such a way that anyone who knows him KNOWS he could not have threatened anyone.

    The administration is going to blind-side itself with ANY argument it makes. He will eloquently and succinctly use it to “strangle” them- and deservingly so.

    The only resolution or conclusion that should have been considered was to offer him whatever help they thought he may have needed and then sim forced him into retirement on his full pension.

    The fact that this didn’t occur is proof enough to me that he is being mistreated.

    Nova… a word to the wise: Don’t ever ask me for a donation again. EVER.


  2. I have known Anthony Chase since he was 16 years old and in high school. There is nothing even remotely dangerous about him. He is a kind, generous, thoughtful, extremely bright, intellectual person, who also has a sharp wit. I knew his mother, father, and the son he raised. In all the years I’ve known him, he has never been aggressive toward anyone. It is true, that he expresses his strongly-held opinions only through verbal wit.

    He is well-known in his field, has published several books, has been a tenured professor at Nova for over 30 years. He was fired because he actively supported the unionized service workers at Nova University who were systematically being fired in order to hire non-unionized workers. He told the president of the university “You can do that,” and the next thing he knew, he was being marched out of his lecture class by policemen and told he could never set foot on the university property again. His computer and everything in his office was confiscated. He was not allowed to have ANY communication with his colleagues from that moment forward, or they with him. This sounds like something outrageous out of China’s dictatorship, and it is.

    Heather E. .P. Cattell, Ph.D.
    Clinical Psychologist

  3. Lottakatz, exactly right. If you are dangerous to yourself and others, you certainly must be disabled, and if you’re disabled, you are entitled to MORE process (“due”), not LESS. They should absolutely have to show the results of their investigation. This stuff is like the Star Chamber.

    There is a priniciple — Otteray Scribe may jump in here to clarify my fuzzy thinking on it — but I think it means that if a doctor believes that his patient is imminently about to hurt some third person, there IS a duty to warn. What that has to do with situations such as the Fort Hood shooter or this particular professor, I don’t know, haven’t studied it at all. But it may have some application here.

  4. Maybe they could just do as they do in the NYC ed. system. they can;t fire the teachers about whom issues have raised (since union, tenure issues), so they sit in a room all day long, doing nothing, maybe some sudoku or cross stitch, and get paid for it.

  5. Establishing dangerousness is very difficult to do, absent any overt explicitly violent behavior in the past. The University screwed this up big time.

  6. If the threats were really jokes, they were in extremely poor taste and certainly deserving of a reprimand, possibly loss of job depending on the profs attitude and school precedents. If the prof really has a mental problem I would think that firing him would just exacerbate the problem and result in a real act of violence. Employees who develop mental problems should be getting help and time off until things are under control. It could be that the real reason for his dismissal is his disagreement with the school administration over a completely different issue and has nothing to do with his talk of violence.

  7. What Gene said. This guy does seem to have some “issues” that may require counseling from a professional.

  8. An attorney that has an attorney for an attorney has a fool for an attorney……

    I bet they are going to have one hell of a court fight…. Maybe the OK corral……..

  9. “[S]hould the law school establish that the threats were intentional (and not jokes) before terminating a tenured professor?”

    Absolutely. Given the nature of the issue and the fact that no criminal charges were filed, I’d think the probative value of the witness interviews is critical to the case at bar and should outweigh any consideration of work product exemption. If the “threat” was real and credible, simply firing him without filing charges could be considered grossly negligent on the part of the school for in essence inviting an episode of violence from someone they claimed to be capable of committing while not taking what would seem to be a common sense precaution.

    “Likewise, should a professor accused of mental instability be afforded a leave of action for treatment before termination?”

    In all fairness.

  10. Cross post to Lotta done from “limits of civility” thread.


    You said:

    “Generally I ignore ‘that guy’. ‘That guy’ in the blawg variation of the humorous internet meme context- the guy that just doesn’t get it; the guy that is ignorant and aggressive about it; the guy that just looks for a sore spot and picks at it, the guy that is passive aggressive and directs it at various targets then says he’s being picked on; the guy that will write a generally well spoken and reasoned comment then throw in a sentence that is grossly and plainly insulting to the blawg in general and shockingly uncivil; that guy.”

    If you feel that I am “that guy”, then would appreciate a confirmation of this. As a courtesy, of course.

    My suspiciaon is raised by the workds “passive aggressive” which some have accused me of repeatedly.

    So therefore my asking for this.

    No recriminations to be expected from me for the info.

  11. If the University thought he was handicapped and terminated him due to the perceived risk caused by the handicap then shouldn’t this be an EO case? Protected individuals are protected if the employer perceives them to fall into a protected class and takes action on that basis even if the employee is not in fact a member of a protected class.

    I can’t imagine that the paperwork in question can be withheld by bypassing HR and treating the investigation as a work product. That paperwork should easily put the factual basis for the termination to rest. Like Bettykath says, there is no due process in the way this firing was done.

    Also, if the perception was that a handicap prevented him from working (thus the termination) shouldn’t there have been some discussion of medical assistance, or disability retirement?

  12. You don’t joke about shooting up a school, just like you don’t joke about hijacking an airplane. If he’s not smart enough to know that, he’s not smart enough to be a professor.

  13. I don’t know if the prof is dangerous or not but he didn’t seem to get anything resembling due process.

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