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New Trial Ordered for U. of Iowa Law Prof Alleging Political Discrimination

By July 17, 2014

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled Tuesday (PDF) that there will be a new trial in the case of Teresa Wagner, who alleges that the University of Iowa College of Law denied her a legal writing instructor position because of her conservative political beliefs and activism.

Azhar Majeed explained the significance of the case here on The Torch in February when oral arguments before the Eighth Circuit had been set. He wrote:

[M]aking hiring decisions based on a candidate’s political views at a public institution is a textbook form of viewpoint discrimination prohibited by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court made that clear in Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, 497 U.S. 62 (1990) (holding that promotion, transfer, recall, and hiring decisions involving low-level public employees may not be based on political party affiliation and support).

The Des Moines Register reported on the procedural issues that led to the new trial:

A federal jury in Davenport in 2012 chose to rule in favor of [defendant and former law school dean Carolyn] Jones on the political discrimination charge, but could not decide whether Wagner’s equal protection rights were violated.

[...]

[U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas] Shields declared a mistrial after jurors told him that they would not be able to reach a verdict after deliberating over a two-day period. But Shields reassembled the jurors just minutes after he’d dismissed them, because he “failed” to question them on whether they could reach a unanimous verdict on either of the two counts.

Jurors told Shields that they could unanimously rule in favor of the law school on the political discrimination charge, but could not decide on the equal protection charge. Shields changed the ruling, declaring a mistrial on only the second count; U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt later dismissed the equal protection charge and denied an appeal from Wagner for a new trial.

The [Eighth Circuit’s] ruling … grants Wagner a new trial on the discrimination charge, finding that once jurors have been dismissed, they cannot be asked to return and give a verdict.

FIRE will continue to follow the case for updates.

Schools: University of Iowa