DENVER | Former professor Ward Churchill won his wrongful-dismissal lawsuit against the University of Colorado on Thursday, but was awarded just $1 in damages though he may get his job back.
The jury of four women and two men reached a verdict about 4 p.m. Thursday, having begun deliberating Wednesday afternoon after closing arguments concluded in the three-week trial.
Mr. Churchill, 61, was fired in 2007 after a two-year university investigation found him guilty of plagiarism, fabricating research and misrepresenting the research of others.
But the jury sided with Mr. Churchill in his contention that he came under investigation only after an outcry surrounding an essay he wrote comparing the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to infamous Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann. Mr. Churchill had argued that the university violated his First Amendment rights.
Whether Mr. Churchill will be reinstated as a professor remains to be seen. Denver Chief District Court Judge Larry Naves will hold a separate hearing to determine Mr. Churchill’s future with the university.
After the hearing, Mr. Churchill said he wasn’t concerned about the $1 award, only getting his job back.
“What’s next for me? Reinstatement, of course,” Mr. Churchill said. “I didn’t ask for money, I asked for justice.”
University spokesman Ken McConnellogue defended the university, telling a Denver TV station that “we believe we did the right thing in the right way for the right reasons. And we would act the same way again.”
Mr. Churchill’s attorney, David Lane of Denver, called the verdict “a great victory for the First Amendment and academic freedom.”
During the trial, Mr. Lane had contended that the university succumbed to pressure from the “howling mob” to fire Mr. Churchill after he became a national symbol of radical academia. He was frequently criticized by conservative commentators such as Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.
Then-Colorado Gov. Bill Owens also had called on Mr. Churchill to resign. Mr. Owens and former Sen. Hank Brown, who served as university president at the time of the firing, were called to testify during the trial.
At the time, Mr. Churchill was a professor of ethnic studies and former head of the ethnic studies department. He had published extensively on the subject of American Indian history and was active in the American Indian Movement.
The university’s attorney, Patrick O’Rourke, countered with extensive evidence of Mr. Churchill’s academic misconduct. He argued that the firing was based solely on those issues and had nothing to do with his 2001 essay, “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens.”
But jurors disagreed, finding that the essay set in motion the events that led to university’s decision to dismiss Mr. Churchill.