Prof. Punished Over Anti-Muslim Facebook Posts Sues Purdue

By May 17, 2012

A Purdue University political science professor has sued the university in Indiana court, claiming it violated his free speech and privacy rights by subjecting him to a disciplinary investigation after he posted comments criticizing Muslims to his Facebook page.

In a lawsuit filed May 10 against university officials and professors, Purdue-Calumet Professor Maurice Eisenstein alleges several professors conspired to smear him by filing unfounded harassment claims over the Facebook posts. The complaint says that after the university’s investigation, Eisenstein was cleared of violating the school’s anti-harassment policy but reprimanded for retaliation against two of the professors who had filed claims against him.

"This is not the first time and it won’t be the last time we will see a university punish a student or professor for constitutionally protected speech on Facebook," said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which advocated for Eisenstein before the university. "Professors at public universities should not have to go to court to defend their free speech rights."

The professor’s troubles began Nov. 11, when he posted a photo on Facebook of "Christians killed by a radical Muslim group" in Nigeria two days earlier, along with written comments questioning the response of moderate Muslims and insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

The Facebook post led to student protests on campus, and later that month faculty members, students and the Muslim Student Association filed harassment and discrimination complaints against Eisenstein citing the Facebook comments and concerns about his teaching methodologies.

The lawsuit claims that the complaints were part of a campaign to deprive Eisenstein, who is an Orthodox Jew, of his rights to freedom of speech and religion.

The suit maintains that even though the complaints were based on speech that was clearly protected as free speech under the state and federal constitutions, Purdue-Calumet moved forward with an investigation that lasted months and held a full hearing on the claims.

The chancellor ultimately concluded that Eisenstein’s comments had not violated the school’s anti-harassment policies but that he had retaliated against two colleagues for filing the complaints, and the university denied his appeal, according to the suit.

The lawsuit further alleges that the chancellor and a professor made confidential documents related to the investigation publicly available, in violation of Eisenstein’s privacy rights.

The suit seeks an order reversing the university’s decision that Eisenstein retaliated against two professors in violation of its anti-harassment policy, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

"We are asking for an award of damages because this investigation dragged on for many, many months and the individual named defendants conspired to basically shut him up, which violates his civil rights," Edward W. Hearn of Johnson & Bell Ltd., who represents Eisenstein, told Law360.

Purdue-Calumet spokesman Wes Lukoshus told Law360 on Thursday that the university had not yet received the complaint.

Eisenstein is represented by Edward W. Hearn of Johnson & Bell Ltd.

Counsel information for the defendants was not immediately available.

The case is Eisenstein v. Trustees of Purdue University et al., in the Lake Circuit/Superior Court for Lake County Indiana. The case number was not immediately available.

Schools: Purdue University Northwest