Whistleblowing UCLA Prof in Court Today to Defend His Job

By March 18, 2013

As Leslie Eastman of Legal Insurrection reminds readers, today is UCLA professor Jim Enstrom’s first day in court over UCLA’s attempts to dismiss him after he engaged in successful whistleblowing against a member of his department and a government scientist. Enstrom came to FIRE for help in 2010 when the university first moved to terminate his employment. While, with FIRE’s help, Professor Enstrom has been able to delay the final day of his employment for several years now, UCLA has steadfastly refused to address the larger issues. As a result, Enstrom filed suit in June of last year. Here’s what FIRE reported at the time:

Enstrom has worked at UCLA as a researcher and professor since 1976, being rehired consistently each year until his ordeal began. Beginning in 2004, he worked in UCLA’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences (EHS). Over the years, he and a few of his colleagues have sometimes disagreed strongly about research on environmental health issues—for example, on the extent of the threat to public health posed by certain air pollutants, a topic of Enstrom’s research which has been the subject of intense debate in California because of its implications for state environmental regulations. 

Enstrom also was a successful whistleblower whose activism led to fellow EHS faculty member John Froines being replaced on a panel for the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Several members of the panel, including Froines, had been serving beyond the three-year legal limit on their terms of office, and Enstrom’s whistleblowing provided part of the grounds for a June 2009 lawsuit on the issue. Enstrom also blew the whistle on a fake Ph.D. degree claimed by a CARB researcher.

UCLA’s retaliation against Enstrom first became apparent in December 2009, when Enstrom discovered that UCLA had cut off his salary fund and charged his salary against his research funds without his knowledge. In February 2010, Environmental Health Sciences Chair Richard J. Jackson told Enstrom that UCLA was laying him off. Enstrom fought back and kept his job. 

After UCLA’s first attempt failed, Enstrom learned of further retaliation in June 2010 when the EHS faculty (including Froines) voted not to rehire him because his "research is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department." UCLA also invoked vague and previously unmentioned "minimum requirements," even though his research output was similar to or greater than that of other professors in his department. Enstrom learned he was going to be "indefinitely laid off" effective June 30, 2010. 

Enstrom has demonstrated that his research on environmental health is fully aligned with EHS’ research mission of furthering "extremely interdisciplinary" research "at the interface between human health and the environment." 

Reason.tv also produced a video about Professor Enstrom’s case: 

Professor Enstrom is represented by the American Center for Law and Justice’s David French, who you may also remember was president of FIRE until he left in 2006 to serve as an Army JAG officer in Iraq. Enstrom is appearing in court today at 9 a.m. PDT at the Roybal Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Los Angeles. We wish him luck in his pursuit of justice!

Schools: University of California, Los Angeles Cases: University of California at Los Angeles: Non-Reappointment of Controversial Professor