Paul L. Caron

Friday, August 7, 2020

Tenured Law Prof Suspended For Use Of N-Word In Torts Class Sues Emory And Former Dean For Libel And Retaliation

Following up on my previous posts (links below):  Law360, Emory Law Prof Calls Punishment For Using N-Word Unjust:

ZwierAn Emory University School of Law professor hit his employer and former boss with a libel and retaliation suit Thursday, telling a Georgia federal court that they wrongfully suspended him and irreparably damaged his reputation after he used the N-word during a torts class in 2018.

Paul Zwier, who is white, has taught torts, evidence and advanced negotiations at Emory's law school in Atlanta since 2003. He has also written about equity and inclusion, race relations, racism in courts and the rule of law. According to the suit, his Emory career went without incident until a fateful first-year torts class in August 2018. ...

"Professor Zwier's use of the racist term was part of the class discussion and used as an example of how a tortfeasor's words could elevate the severity of the tort being committed," according to the complaint. "Professor Zwier did not direct the word at any individual student, but instead used it as a teaching moment and integral part of the lecture and discussion."

That evening, according to the suit, Zwier learned that Black students in his class had complained about his use of the word. Zwier apologized to his class the next day and had a discussion with Black students about his use of the word, he said. Any student issues appeared to be resolved at that time, he said.

Still, Emory leaders and his then-boss, former interim law school dean James B. Hughes Jr., suspended him and issued several misleading public statements that made it look like he "improperly used a racial slur in class without an academic purpose," Zwier said.

Later, Zwier complained that he was being treated differently because he was white, saying that Black professors had used the word without reproach, discipline or dismissal. Hughes then tried to have Zweir's tenure revoked in retaliation, the professor said. However, the Faculty Hearing Committee ultimately found that Hughes and Emory had failed to demonstrate adequate cause to do so, according to the suit.

Update:, Punished for Being White? Law Professor Suspended Over N-Word Sues Emory, Ex-Dean

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


Could this professor also have a contractual claim against Emory University?

Free speech promises made by universities can be contractually enforced, as a professor who opposed same-sex marriage demonstrated in successfully suing Marquette University. (See McAdams v. Marquette University, 914 N.W.2d 708 (Wis. 2018)).

And the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that classroom use of the N word can be protected in discussing racism and history. (See Hardy v. Jefferson Community College, 260 F.3d 671 (2001)).

Posted by: Hans Bader | Aug 10, 2020 1:09:47 PM

I think this fellow would be better off admitting he made a mistake

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Aug 9, 2020 3:42:41 AM

If it makes it to the Supreme Court, Gorsuch would likely hold for him because if you switch the professor’s race, he doesn’t get fired or whatever for using that word, ergo racial discrimination.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 7, 2020 2:30:47 PM