On July 13, 2017, FIRE requested information under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act about the questionable termination of Lisa Durden, an adjunct professor at Essex County College, two days after her June 6 appearance on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” On the program, Durden debated Carlson on whether it was appropriate for a Black Lives Matter group to hold an event and request that white people not attend. Although Durden’s position at Essex was never mentioned during the show, Essex’s president issued a June 23 statement about her firing, saying the college was “immediately inundated with feedback … expressing frustration, concern and even fear” about the professor’s views, and asserting the “right to select employees who represent the institution appropriately.”
On January 3, 2018 — after 174 days of delay — FIRE filed a lawsuit to force Essex to comply with its obligations under New Jersey public records law and produce the records FIRE requested. When Essex finally produced the records, they showed only one member of the public contacting the college before news of Durden’s suspension was reported by the media, undermining the college’s claim that it had been “inundated with feedback.” FIRE was represented by Bruce Rosen of McCusker, Anselmi, Rosen & Carvelli, P.C., and FIRE attorney Brynne S. Madway.
In April 2018, Durden filed a lawsuit against Essex County College for violating her freedom of speech rights under New Jersey law. As of January 2021, the case remains pending.