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UNC Wilmington Professor’s Day in Court Finally Arrives

By March 17, 2014

Today, University of North Carolina Wilmington Professor Mike Adams heads to federal court to begin a trial that will determine whether his university retaliated against him for expressing his religious and political beliefs in columns, books, and radio and television interviews for non-university outlets.

Adams’ day in court has been a long time coming: It’s been nearly seven years since he first filed suit against UNC Wilmington in April 2007 with the assistance of Alliance Defending Freedom. I surveyed the progress of Adams’ case here on The Torch nearly a year ago, when the federal district court rejected UNC Wilmington’s motion to dismiss:

Adams’ April 2007 complaint, filed with the cooperation of the Alliance Defense Fund (now the Alliance Defending Freedom), accused UNC-Wilmington officials of violating his First Amendment rights by denying his promotion on account of his expression as a conservative columnist. Adams also alleged that he had suffered religious discrimination and an equal protection violation.

Three years later, in a March 2010 ruling, a federal district court rejected Adams’ claim of First Amendment retaliation, finding that the columns constituted speech “made pursuant to his official duties” as a professor and were thus not protected by the First Amendment. The court reached its decision by relying on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006). In Garcetti, the Court ruled that public employees do not enjoy First Amendment protections when engaging in speech pursuant to their official duties. Applying Garcetti‘s holding to Adams’ case, the district court determined that the columns could not be cited as grounds for retaliation in violation of the First Amendment.

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Adams appealed the district court’s ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In support of Adams’ appeal, FIRE joined an amici curiae brief with the AAUP and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, asking the Fourth Circuit to recognize Garcetti‘s inapplicability to Adams’ situation.

Thankfully, the Fourth Circuit did just that. Reversing the district court’s dismissal of Adams’ claims, the court wrote that “the district court applied Garcetti without acknowledging, let alone addressing, the clear language in that opinion that casts doubt on whether the Garcetti analysis applies in the academic context of a public university.”

Now that Adams’ case is finally headed to trial today, we look forward to providing further updates here on The Torch as events warrant. Stay tuned.

Schools: University of North Carolina – Wilmington Cases: University of North Carolina – Wilmington: Professor Files Lawsuit Alleging Retaliation for Political Columns