There was an interesting mistrial announced this month in a discrimination case against the University of Iowa law school. Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on a 14th amendment claim by the part-time legal writing professor who claims that she was passed over for a full-time position and then lost her adjunct position due to hiring bias against conservatives. Teresa Wagner (left) worked for pro-life causes and says that law professor Randall Bezanson (right), a former law clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun, campaigned against her hiring (Blackmun wrote the Roe v. Wade decision). She further noted that only one faculty member at Iowa is a registered Republican.
The jurors actually rejected Wagner’s First Amendment claim but deadlocked on her 14th Amendment claim.
What is particularly interesting about the case is that Iowa claims that Wagner blew her interview, which was taped. However, the law school then erased the tape.
She then introduced an email in which Iowa law professor Jon Carlson (right) expressing concerns “that some people may be opposed to Teresa serving in any role, in part at least because they so despise her politics (and especially her activism about it).”
Wagner, 47, is an Iowa law school graduate who has worked as an adjunct professor at George Mason University’s law school. She has also worked for the Family Research Council, a staunchly conservative group that opposes same-sex marriage as well as the National Right to Life Committee.
In late 2006 she applied for the full-time position at the law school.
Of around 50 applicants, Wagner was one of only five offered a chance to make on-campus presentations and had received letters of recommendation from some of the university’s staff. Yet, the position was ultimately given to Matt Williamson. Wagner pointed out that Williamson has never practiced law and had no published works. Moreover, she noted that he is an ardent liberal who frequently criticized Republicans.
Carlson wrote his email to the school’s dean, Carolyn Jones, the day after the faculty rejected Wagner for the position. However, he told the jury that his email also noted that he saw no evidence of bias and that he was simply making the inquiry to be assured that Wagner had been treated fairly. He was joined by a line of law school professors who told the jury that Wagner in her faculty presentation dismissed the role of teaching legal analysis as part of the school’s “Legal Analysis, Research and Writing” academic program. They said that they did not appreciate Wagner’s emphasis on simple grammatical structure in legal writings rather than legal analysis. In defense of Iowa, top schools often emphasize such analysis in their writing programs to reinforce the overall curriculum and training.
Notably, the University of Iowa was the subject of a complaint in 2007 over alleged liberal bias in its hiring practices by Mark Moyar, another conservative. He complained about not getting an interview with the History Department as opposed to less qualified but more liberal candidates. That complaint was rejected.
In this case, Iowa insisted in court that it was Wagner who injected her political beliefs into the process, not any faculty member.
The problem with these challenges is that hiring an academic is not easily broken down to easily identifiable criteria. Most candidates have strong resumes and great enthusiasm for these jobs. Professors have to make what are often difficult predictions about a person’s likely success in the classroom and scholarly work. That is not easily quantified in a court of law. It is notably however that the jury would reject the free speech claim but deadlock on the 14th Amendment discrimination claim. The two claims seem inherent linked and one would have thought that the absence of sufficient proof on one would carry over to the other.
Notably, U.S. magistrate Judge Thomas J. Shields originally declared in court that the entire case was deadlocked but later determined that the initial information was incorrect and that the jury had reached a verdict on only the one claims. Wagner is now seeking a re-trial.
This would be the continuation of a rather hard-fought case. Her lawsuit was dismissed by federal district-court judge on the grounds that the defendant had immunity as an individual and a university official. However, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit revived the lawsuit and held that Ms. Wagner had sufficient evidence to infer that the decisions not to hire her had been motivated by illegal viewpoint bias.
Source: Des Moines Register