Christian Professor Wins Court Case against University Discrimination

When Mike Adams was hired as an assistant professor in 1993 at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, he was an ardent and outspoken atheist.  The university had no problem with his atheism and even promoted him to associate professor in 1998.

By 2000, things changed and Adams began to sound less like an atheist and more like a Christian, which he had become.  It was evident in his writings, talks and mannerisms.  In 2006 he was eligible for full professorship status, but the school turned him down. Among other endeavors, Adams started writing for Townhall, a conservative organization that fully supports Christianity.

Adams knew he was being discriminated against for his Christian views and nothing else, since he was an award winning teacher and author.  He filed a lawsuit against the university.  According to his attorney David French:

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“The university denied Adams’s promotion to full professor despite the fact that he was an award-winning teacher (often receiving the highest marks in the department), had more scholarly publications than the vast majority of his colleagues and more publications than his current and previous department chair at equivalent stages in their careers (indeed, no one with a similar publication record had ever been rejected for promotion), and had rendered service to the university sufficient to win one of the university’s most-coveted service awards.”

“As part of his promotion application, Adams submitted his peer-reviewed publications to satisfy the ‘research’ component of the promotion, also submitted a book that was a compilation of his essays, and noted that he performed ‘service’ to the university and community through his public speeches and columns. In response, his colleagues unleashed a torrent of bile (in writing) regarding the viewpoints in his columns while considering his promotion application. Additionally, the chancellor of the university herself had initiated a secret investigation of Adams for his alleged ‘transphobia.’ When explaining the promotion denial to Adams, his department chair indicated that one reason for the denial was that his colleagues found his ‘service’ had undefined ‘negative effects’ on members of the department.”

In 2009, the trial court dismissed Adams case claiming that his speeches and writings or were not constitutionally protected because they were work-related. However, the Fourth Circuit Court reversed that decision allowing the case to proceed. UNC-Wilmington appealed the fourth Circuit Court’s decision, moving the case before the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina Southern Division. This court upheld the ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court thus sending Adams’ case to trial later this year. As in the case with Dr. Enstrom, the District Court’s ruling is considered to be another victory for academic freedom along with the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

On April 8, 2014, Senior United States District Judge Malcom J. Howard ruled in favor of Adams.  The decision read in part:

“On March 20, 2014, following a four day trial, the jury returned a unanimous verdict, finding that:

“[T]he plaintiff’s speech activity [was] a substantial or motivating factor in the defendants’ decision to not promote the plaintiff, [and] the defendants [would not] have reached the same decision not to promote the plaintiff in the absence of the plaintiff’s speech activity.”

“(Jury Verdict [DE #222]).”

“At the direction of the court, the clerk entered judgment on in accordance with the jury’s verdict, providing:”

“It is ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED defendants have deprived plaintiff of his First Amendment right to protected speech in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983 and the United States Constitution. Plaintiff is entitled to recover equitable damages from defendants, to be determined by the court at a later date…”

“The clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of plaintiff and against defendants as follows:”

“The court hereby orders the defendants confer upon plaintiff full professorship as of the date of this order, with pay and benefits in the future to relate back to August 2007. Additionally, the court awards back-pay in the amount of $50,000, inclusive of prejudgment interest.”

Judge Howard also gave Adams additional time to file a motion to have the university pay for all of his attorney fees.

Adams’ attorney, David French was with Alliance Defending Freedom at that start of the seven year court case, but finished up working with the American Center for Law and Justice. After this week’s decision, the ACLJ stated:

“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.”

Travis Barham, Litigation Staff Counsel with ADF added:

“As the marketplace of ideas, universities must respect the freedom of professors to express their points of view.  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.”

In view of how many cases have gone against Christians, this is a huge victory for Christian and First Amendment rights.

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