Political Discrimination Case Reinstated; Higher Ed Too Liberal?

By Dyanna Quizon, Esq. on February 01, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As legal practitioners, we have had to endure - on average - seven years of higher education to become attorneys. During those years, we've come across hundreds of teachers of all different backgrounds, genders and ethnicities. But were the majority of them liberal and purposely so?

One University of Iowa College of Law part-time employee, Teresa Wagner, believes she, at least, was discriminated against and refused a full-time position because of her conservative background. Wagner is a registered Republican who "actively advocated for socially conservative causes."

Wagner approached the disappointment of not getting the job like any lawyer would. She sued.

At the end of December, the Eighth Circuit also decided that Wagner's First Amendment claim had merit and ruled to reinstate her political discrimination lawsuit against the law school. A lower court judge had dismissed her case through summary judgment because it held the target of the lawsuit, the law school's former dean, was protected in her personal capacity by qualified immunity.

Carolyn Jones, the law school's former dean denies Wagner's position, of course, claiming she only followed the faculty vote not to hire Wagner.

Wagner, however, relied on evidence showing the faculty members' concerns with Wagner's political views and the fact that only one out of the 50 professors at the law school is Republican to argue that Jones' actions constituted a Constitutional violation.

The Eighth Circuit found that Wagner had produced sufficient evidence that "political affiliation was a substantial or motivating factor behind the adverse employment action" and Jones had failed to prove that she would not have hired her regardless of that affiliation.

With Wagner's case returning to the trial level, the debate continues as to the reasons and implications of higher education predominately leaning to the left.

Among the wide variety of reasons why there may be more liberal-leaning educators, however, discrimination is not one of the strongest, or most common, ones.

"If you look at surveys that have asked professors whether they've been discriminated against on political grounds...only something like 7 percent of those surveyed said they have been," University of British Columbia sociology Prof. Neil Gross told the Star Tribune.

Whether Teresa Wagner's case will be the rare instance where political discrimination can be proved will be now left in the hands of a jury.

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