Former LSU Professor Files Lawsuit Challenging Her Termination For Sexual Harassment

teresabuchanan.facebook-370x242Former LSU Education Professor Teresa Buchanan has filed an interesting federal civil rights lawsuit against the President of Louisiana State University and other school officials, claiming that the school’s sexual harassment rules (modeled on the rules crafted by the Department of Education) violated free speech and due process. I have been a critic of actions taken by the Administration against universities in forcing schools to strip students and faculty of due process rights. We previously discussed the controversy HERE.

Buchanan appears to have favored ““F*** no” to questions in class and using the crude slang term for vagina to suggest someone is a coward. She also made a a joke that the quality of sex gets worse the longer a relationship lasts. Buchanan says that most of the incident occurred during a divorce when she may have been a bit less guarded in her terminology. I think that the five faculty member committee found a compromise in sanctioning the language while also finding that Buchanan’s comments were not “systematically directed at any individual.”

Buchanan was fired for using the occasional profanity and sexual language in her classes. The school decided that such language violated its policy prohibiting “sexual harassment” of students, which defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical behavior of a sexual nature.” That is the standard imposed by the Administration on schools under threat that failure to comply could result in heavy financial penalties and other sanctions.

imagesBuchanan was associate professor teaching in LSU’s teacher certification program. In December 2013, she was told that she could not teach during the Spring 2014 semester because of unspecified allegations that she had made “inappropriate comments” while teaching college-aged teacher education students. Not only was she a tenured professor but, after 20 years of service, she was in the final stages of approval for a promotion to full professor. She was later charged with violating the university’s sexual harassment policy despite the fact that no student accused her of sexual harassment. While some did not like her teaching style, the university decided to label her a sexual harasser and fire her. At the same time, she was denied basic due process rights, including knowing who accused her or who filed the complaint for months after the charges were leveled against her.

Buchanan insists that she sometimes uses salty or profane language as part of her teaching either as humor or as part of role playing exercises in training teachers. She believes that it prepares teachers to interact with “children from family backgrounds that are different from their own.” Regardless of the reason, that allegation falls short of what most people would consider sexual harassment and raises serious questions of academic freedom and free speech. What makes this even more problematic is that in March 2015 the faculty committee unanimously determined that the university should not consider terminating Buchanan as opposed to asked her to modify her conduct. That seems like an obvious solution that respects academic freedom while working with academics who may be offending students with foul language.

fkingaThe LSU administration ignored the faculty recommendation, and in June 2015, LSU’s Board of Supervisors fired Buchanan. Notably, the school said that this was done following “the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights’ advisements.” In response, the entire faculty senate on October 6, 2015 adopted a resolution censuring the administration for applying “confusing, dangerous, and untenable standards” to Buchanan and called on LSU to reverse its decision. The Senate specifically censored LSU President F. King Alexander (right), Human Sciences and Education Dean Damon Andrew and former Provost Stuart Bell at its monthly meeting Tuesday afternoon. The resolution (which you can read here) details violations of due process in the case.

The respected American Association of University Professors also issued a position finding that Buchanan’s rights to due process and academic freedom were violated.

The actions of the LSU Administration is a fundamental denial of due process, academic freedom, and due process. It is a disgrace for any educational institution to take such actions against an academic and another example of why Congress must intervene in the actions of the Department of Education. In my view, Alexander is unfit to remain the head of a university after shredding fundamental principles of academic freedom that serve as the foundation for our academic institutions. Of course, Alexander was willing dismiss these core values in this case but there are somethings that he is unwilling to do . . . like stop the construction of an 85 million dollar lazy river when the school is facing crippling budget shortfalls. It says a great deal about his priority as the head of a major educational institution.

33 thoughts on “Former LSU Professor Files Lawsuit Challenging Her Termination For Sexual Harassment”

  1. Here are some allegations in Count I of her Complaint which are well articulated:

    The First and Fourteenth Amendments extend to campuses of state colleges and
    universities. Healy v. James, 408 U.S. at 180.
    Academic freedom is a “special concern of the First Amendment.” Keyishian v.
    Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589, 603 (1967). LSU’s own policies recognize that “[e]xercise of
    academic freedom, including intellectual dissent, advocacy of controversial ideas or pursuit by
    an individual of his/her legal rights, shall not be grounds for dismissal or disciplinary action.”
    See Exhibit C (LSU PS-104).
    Professor Buchanan engaged in constitutionally protected expression and was
    dismissed in response to her exercise of constitutional rights. Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd.
    of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977). Professor Buchanan’s exercise of academic freedom is
    itself an issue of public concern protected by the First Amendment. Sweezy v. New Hampshire,
    Case 3:16-cv-00041-SDD-EWD Document 1
    01/20/16 Page 12 of 19
    354 U.S. 234, 250 (1957); Silva v. University of New Hampshire, 888 F. Supp. 293, 315 (D.
    N.H. 1994).
    Professor Buchanan’s speech involved a matter of public concern insofar as she
    employed a pedagogy for training student teachers for the rigors of providing educational
    services to communities that may use profanity in common expression, express hostility in
    interactions with teachers, or express sexual diversity. Her interest as a public citizen in
    training elementary school teachers outweighed the university’s interest in forbidding the
    occasional use of sexual and profane language by its faculty. Pickering v. Board of Education,
    391 U.S. 563 (1968); Hardy v. Jefferson Cmty. Coll., 260 F.3d 671 (6th Cir. 2001).
    These basic First Amendment principles cannot be cast aside simply by labeling
    speech as “harassment” or “discriminatory.” “There is no categorical ‘harassment exception’
    to the First Amendment’s free speech clause.” Saxe v. State Coll. Area Sch. Dist., 240 F.3d
    200, 204 (3d Cir. 2001). The government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply
    because it is considered offensive or disagreeable, Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 414 (1989),
    and the First Amendment “leaves no room for the operation of a dual standard in the academic
    community with respect to the content of speech.” Papish v. Board of Curator of the Univ. of
    Missouri, 410 U.S. 667, 671 (1973).
    The Supreme Court has long recognized that “words are often chosen as much
    for their emotive as cognitive force,” and that “we cannot indulge the facile assumption that
    one can forbid particular words without also running a substantial risk of suppressing ideas in
    the process.” Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 26 (1971). The First Amendment forbids the
    government from censoring speech based on “personal predilections,” and “the State has no
    Case 3:16-cv-00041-SDD-EWD Document 1
    01/20/16 Page 13 of 19
    right to cleanse the public debate to the point where it is grammatically palatable to the most
    squeamish among us.” Id. at 21, 25.
    Defendant Alexander explicitly cited Plaintiff’s speech in explaining his
    decision to recommend dismissal for cause to the Board of Supervisors.
    Defendant Andrew cited Plaintiff’s speech as the basis for his recommendation
    that Plaintiff be dismissed for cause.
    On information and belief, Defendant Monaco approved Defendant Reinoso’s
    findings that Plaintiff’s speech violated LSU’s sexual harassment policies.
    Defendant Reinoso cited Plaintiff’s speech as the basis for finding that she
    violated LSU’s sexual harassment policies.
    Defendants Alexander, Andrew, Monaco, and Reinoso violated a clearly
    established constitutional right of which all reasonable college administrators and staff should
    have known, rendering them liable to Plaintiff under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
    The denial of constitutional rights is irreparable injury per se, and Plaintiff is
    entitled to declaratory and injunctive relief.
    Professor Buchanan suffered from a loss of employment, lost income, and
    diminished professional prospects as a consequence of the Defendants’ unconstitutional acts.
    Additionally, Professor Buchanan experienced emotional injury as a
    consequence of being denied her First Amendment rights.

  2. I looked up the case on Google and found the Complaint. It is fairly well drafted. No allegation of conspiracy. Here are some relevant portions:

    This action arises under the United States Constitution, particularly the First and
    Fourteenth Amendments, and the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988.
    This Court has original jurisdiction over these federal claims pursuant to
    28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343.
    The Court has authority to grant the requested declaratory judgment pursuant to
    28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 57, and to issue the requested
    Case 3:16-cv-00041-SDD-EWD Document 1
    01/20/16 Page 3 of 19
    injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65. The
    Court is authorized to award attorneys’ fees and costs pursuant by 42 U.S.C. § 1988.
    Venue is proper in the United States District Court for the Middle District of
    Louisiana pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) because the events giving rise to the instant claim
    occurred within this District and because at least one Defendant resides in this District.

    Later on they do ask for money damages but not punitives. Do not use this Complaint as a template.

  3. Like most people, I agree with the faculty member committee that the appropriate response would have simply been to counsel her against using profanity, which is against a professor code of conduct.

    The charge of sexual harassment is entirely inappropriate. It’s like charging someone, and later registering as a sex offender, for peeing in an alley.

    These were all adults, not a kindergarten. I occasionally heard profanity from university professors. One notable occasion was when my physics professor accidentally gave himself a good shock in class.

  4. A number of years ago my university (Rice) issued a warning to faculty along the following lines. Watch what you say in class because you may insult some students who might be hurt by your words. Of course most students laughed uproariously when they learned about the warning and published a list of their “dirty” words which the aged faculty probably did not know yet and urged all students not to use these in class lest we faculty would be shocked or go berserk.

  5. I spend some time in New Orleans. LSU is considered a good place. The story about this firing is causing a lot of disdain against the university around town. I think that Randy Newman needs to come to town to sing on her behalf. See the comment above about his song.

  6. Joan – Is it the husband or wife? Wife divorces 1st husband and has an affair with married man.
    Then complains about cheap gifts. Wife of 2nd husband finds out. Now that’s 2 marriages ruined. Bedroom stories.

  7. Per my beloved departed friend Sam Saltzer: “The only thing worse than a divorce with children is an automobile accident with severe bodily injury.”

  8. Joan

    While I have never, personally, experienced a divorce, I have had many close friends and family members who have experienced this incredible upheaval, which, oftentimes, turns one’s world upside down. That’s not lost on me. I wouldn’t wish the stress or the anxiety on anyone. I do, however, find using one’s divorce, in this particular situation, as any sort of mitigating factor, to be ludicrous and bizarre. She is, after all, a tenured professor; this isn’t her day at the rodeo with regard to the school’s policies and procedures. If her divorce proceedings are leaving her so incapacitated and impaired–to the point of depriving her of the ability to discern between appropriate and inappropriate classroom behavior–perhaps it would’ve been wise of her to have taken a leave of absence to tend to her personal affairs. Either do that or simply own one’s actions, whatever they may be.

  9. Bam Bam, If you’ve never been through one, you may not know that going through a divorce can make you crazy. When encountering someone going through a divorce, a friend of mine asked “is he getting a divorce because he is crazy or is he crazy because he is getting a divorce?” I think that sums it up.

  10. Some of these special flowers she is teaching are going to be teaching in inner-city schools and they are going to hear words that will melt them to their shoe tops. LSU is dead wrong. And the words themselves are not sexual harassment. They just want to kiss the butt of the DoE.

  11. Was she formally counseled to correct what the administration determined to be inappropriate teaching methods or did they go straight to termination? Her divorce excuse would indicate she understood her “salty” language was not in accordance with the school’s standards. I would have expected that once advised of the need to correct this that she would have.

  12. JT,

    I agree 100% (just based upon your info, but if there is more to the story…….well, we need to lower that the 100%…..,lol)!

  13. The faculty at LSU needs to form a more perfect union. A labor union. No pun intended. They need to demand the resignation of all the pinheads who fired this human. This woman needs to file her First Amendment civil rights claim in federal district court. LSU is a state university. The firing was by a state actor under the definition of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. All who joined in to fire her were part of a conspiracy under Section 1985. Her civil right was her right to free expression and to petition her government for redress of grievances. For injunctive relief she needs to seek a court order that these so called administrators not be allowed to wear alligator shoes or to go to Atlanta and hustle around. She can seek actual damages and attorney fees. She would not name the State of Louisiana as a defendant because they might have sovereign immunity, just the individual state actors. If there was a municipality involved (there is not) she could sue a town under the Civil Rights Act. Have a Randy Newman look a like sing the song. mentioned in my prior comment, on the courthouse steps while the jury files out for lunch.

    Political correctness is incorrect. This needs to be taught to the good ol boys from LSU. They are too dumb to teach so they try to teach teachers.

    Those who can: do.
    Those who can’t: teach.
    Those who can’t teach: teach teachers.

    The audience is still laughing at Lester Maddox.

  14. I love how she blames her in-class behavior on the fact that she was going through a divorce at the time of the incidents. She deserved to be canned.

  15. Here is a better version from Google:

    Song by Randy Newman from Good Ol Boys album

    Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show
    With some smart a** New York Jew
    And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox
    And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too
    Well he may be a fool but he’s our fool
    If they think they’re better than him they’re wrong
    So I went to the park and I took some paper along
    And that’s where I made this song

    We talk real funny down here
    We drink too much and we laugh too loud
    We’re too dumb to make it in no Northern town
    And we’re keepin’ the n*****s down

    We got no necked oilmen from Texas
    And good ol’ boys from Tennessee
    And colleges men from LSU
    Went in dumb, come out dumb too
    Hustlin’ ’round Atlanta in their alligator shoes
    Gettin’ drunk every weekend at the barbecues
    And they’re keepin’ the n*****s down

    We are rednecks, we’re rednecks
    We don’t know our a**
    From a hole in the ground
    We’re rednecks, we’re rednecks
    And we’re keeping the n*****s down

    Now your northern n*****’s a negro
    You see he’s got his dignity
    Down here we’re too ignorant to realize
    That the North has set the n***** free

    Yes he’s free to be put in a cage
    In Harlem in New York City
    And he’s free to be put in a cage
    On the South Side of Chicago
    And the West Side
    And he’s free to be put in a cage
    In Hough in Cleveland
    And he’s free to be put in a cage
    In East St. Louis
    And he’s free to be put in a cage
    In Fillmore in San Francisco
    And he’s free to be put in a cage
    In Roxbury in Boston
    They’re gatherin’ ’em up from miles around
    Keepin’ the n*****s down

    We’re rednecks, we’re rednecks
    We don’t know our a**
    From a hole in the ground
    We’re rednecks, we’re rednecks
    We’re keeping the n*****s down
    We are keeping the n*****s down

  16. (music- Rednecks)

    Good ol boys from LSU…
    Went in dumb, come out dumb too!
    Hustlin round Atlanta in their alligator shoes,
    Drunk on the weekends at their barbeques!
    We are keeping the n guys down!

    We’re Rednecks! Rednecks!
    We don’t know our arse from a hole in the ground.
    We’re Rednecks. We are keeping the n guys down.

    da da da da dant da dant…. etc

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