After over six years of litigation, Mike Adams has won the right to present his retaliation case to a jury of his peers. Back in 2006, he was denied promotion to full professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. At the time, he had multiple awards and rave reviews from students for his teaching, he had published more peer-reviewed articles than all but two of his colleagues, and he had a distinguished record of service both on and off campus, culminating in earning UNCW’s highest service award. But to his colleagues and department chair, all of this was inadequate, even though, for most of them, Dr. Adams’ accomplishments surpassed their own. So—in a process replete with procedural irregularities, conflicts of interests, and vitriolic criticism of Dr. Adams’ Townhall.com columns and his conservative and Christian beliefs—they denied him the promotion he so richly deserved.
Shortly thereafter, Dr. Adams filed suit because it is unconstitutional for public officials, including UNCW professors and administrators, to retaliate against an employee for expressing his views on critical social and political topics. And at first, his case faced some difficulties when the district court ruled that the First Amendment did not protect his columns. But after Dr. Adams appealed, the Fourth Circuit disagreed, and not only did it rule that his columns qualified as protected, private speech, but it also ruled that the UNCW officials could be held personally liable if Dr. Adams ultimately won the case.
The Fourth Circuit then asked the district court to answer one question: Was there evidence that Dr. Adams lost that promotion because of his columns and the views expressed in them? And in a decision released last Friday, the district court answered that question with a resounding “yes,” setting the case up for a jury trial:
Here, plaintiff has brought forth evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that his speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the decision to deny [promotion] to plaintiff. The court need not detail the evidence, but plaintiff has produced evidence which . . . shows the following: (1) his internal evaluations declined after he began the speech at issue; (2) faculty attempted to stop or alter his speech; (3) the denial of his application to full professor was in temporal proximity to Adams’ columns openly criticizing the University on certain political and social issues; (4) the written comments of the faculty on the [promotion] decision committee show hostility toward plaintiff’s speech; and, (5) a faculty member who had accused plaintiff of harassment was allowed to participate and vote on the plaintiff’s application for promotion.
At trial this fall, a North Carolina jury will hear evidence supporting each of these points, plus several more. And when it does, we are confident that it will uphold a simple principle articulated by Jordan Lorence: “No university should refuse promotion to an accomplished professor simply because it disagrees with his religious and political views.”