Essex County College — Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit

Category: Cases, Free Speech
Schools: Essex County College

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.”

For more than a month, Essex ignored FIRE’s request for records — as well as a subsequent request — about Durden’s firing and the “feedback” the college allegedly received. After getting a letter from FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, Essex finally responded, asking for the first of five eventual requests for extensions of time to respond. As of November 3, Essex said it “anticipated” being able to provide a response by November 20. FIRE hasn’t heard from Essex since.

On January 3, 2018 — 174 days after our first request — FIRE filed a lawsuit to force to Essex to comply with its obligations under New Jersey public records law and respond to our requests. FIRE is represented by Bruce Rosen of McCusker, Anselmi, Rosen & Carvelli, P.C., and FIRE attorney Brynne S. Madway.