Officials at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington have been ordered to pay a teacher $50,000 in back pay and promote him to a full professorship, backdated to 2007, for discriminating against him over his Christian perspectives.
The ruling from Senior U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard comes in the case of Christian professor Mike Adams, who had faced retaliation, according to the jury, for his conservative views expressed in opinion columns, books and speeches.
“This is a great day not only for Dr. Adams but for all who value academic freedom,” said Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which, along with the American Center for Law and Justice, represented Adams.
“The court’s order reminds universities that they cannot retaliate against those who simply express opinions that some officials do not like,” Theriot said.
WND reported last month the jury’s verdict in favor of Adams. The jury concluded the school unfairly denied a promotion to a professor who was celebrated when he was hired as an atheist but then faced retaliation when he became a Christian.
The decision in favor of Adams, a criminology professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, was an important victory for academic freedom and the First Amendment, the two groups said.
ADF represented Adams together with lead counsel David French, who began the case with ADF and now litigates for ACLJ.
A former atheist, Adams frequently received praise from his colleagues after the university hired him as an assistant professor in 1993 and promoted him to associate professor in 1998.
But some of his views on political and social issues soon reflected his adoption of Christianity in 2000. Subsequently, his advocates said, the university subjected Adams to a campaign of academic persecution, including intrusive investigations, baseless accusations and other actions that culminated in his denial of promotion to full professor, despite an award-winning record of teaching, research and service.
In his lawsuit against the university, attorneys argued that officials denied him a deserved promotion because they disagreed with the content of his nationally syndicated opinion columns that espoused religious and political views contrary to the opinions held by university officials.
The judge granted the request for Adams’ promotion to the rank of full professor, as of 2007, “when the promotion would have taken effect had UNC Wilmington not violated Adams’ First Amendment rights,” according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Also, the judge awarded $50,000 in back pay and has allowed more time for Adams to request costs and attorneys’ fees for the case that lasted seven years.
The judge also rejected defense requests for any changes in the jury verdict or a new trial.
“The court is fully satisfied there was sufficient evidence as a matter of law presented to the jury to find for plaintiff,” he said.
ACLJ noted that the university’s decision against promoting Adams at the time was not based on his work but on a process “that was chock-full of deception, discrimination, and disorder.”
“This ruling sends a message to public universities: academic freedom isn’t just for the Left, it’s a constitutional right for all professors – even Christian conservatives,” the organization said.
“As the marketplace of ideas, universities must respect the freedom of professors to express their points of view,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Travis Barham. “The jury last month found that disagreeing with an accomplished professor’s religious and political views is no grounds for denying him a promotion.
“The court’s order rights the wrong done to Dr. Adams by granting him the full professorship he has long deserved.”
The jury had found that Adams’ “speech activity” was “a substantial or motivating factor in the defendants’ decision to not promote” him.
The jury also found that the defendants would not have made the same decision “in the absence of plaintiffs’ speech activity.”
The case went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit for a ruling in 2011 that said “no individual loses his ability to speak as a private citizen by virtue of public employment.”
The court said Adams’ columns “addressed topics such as academic freedom, civil rights, campus culture, sex, feminism, abortion, homosexuality, religion, and morality.”
“Such topics plainly touched on issues of public, rather than private, concern.”
Adams had a novel way of making his point, as WND reported a year ago.
For example, in a Townhall.com column he poked fun at the idea a university should exclude a Chick-fil-A restaurant from its property because of pro-family views of the company’s owner.
Such exclusion, which Adams described as “queer reasoning,” would make the university more “inclusive,” campaigners apparently believed.
“I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve decided that our LGBTQIA Office here on my campus makes me feel uncomfortable. In fact, the rainbow is a symbol of hate. So, next week, I plan to introduce a resolution to ban them from campus,” he wrote. “I expect the resolution to be defeated because it is idiotic. I’m just hoping I get a special office as a consolation prize – simply for being a narrow minded bigot.”
Lawyers said that when Adams was denied promotion in 2006, 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.”