A North Carolina university that lost a seven-year legal battle over bias against a conservative professor has decided to file an appeal, citing the "potentially excessive" cost of reimbursing him for attorneys' fees.
The University of North Carolina Wilmington issued a statement Thursday estimating that a federal judge's ruling in favor of instructor Mike Adams, a criminology professor who was granted tenure, back pay, damages and attorneys' fees in April, could cost the public university more than $1 million.
"We do not believe it is appropriate to require the taxpayers of North Carolina to underwrite such potentially excessive lawyer fees and costs," said the UNCW statement.
The university's position didn't elicit much sympathy from state Sen. Thom Goolsby, who said UNCW officials had ample opportunity to settle the lawsuit by agreeing to grant Mr. Adams tenure instead of allowing the challenge to drag on for seven years.
"The continued campaign of disinformation against Dr. Adams is wrong, as are ongoing efforts to delay justice in this case," said Mr. Goolsby. "I urge Chancellor [Gary] Miller to drop this appeal and stop expending taxpayer resources in a losing battle against academic freedom."
A jury ruled in Mr. Adams' favor in March, holding that UNCW had retaliated against the conservative professor based on his exercise of free speech by denying him a promotion, despite his outstanding performance evaluations, lengthy list of peer-reviewed academic articles, and extensive work as a faculty advisor.
Mr. Adams, a former atheist who became a Christian after being hired by UNCW and writes a regular column for TownHall.com, chronicled run-ins with other faculty members and administrators in his lawsuit against the university.
Travis Barham, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom who helped represent Mr. Adams, pointed out that a federal judge has not yet issued an award in the case. The university's notice of intent to appeal filed May 7 also doesn't mention costs, although the UNCW press release focuses on the prospective hit to taxpayers.
"A jury found that the University of North Carolina Wilmington illegally retaliated against Dr. Adams simply because they didn't like what he believed and what he wrote," said Mr. Barham. "The university could have avoided this entire dispute and seven years of costly litigation if it had promoted Dr. Adams in 2006 rather than violate his constitutional rights."
In its statement, UNCW said Mr. Adams' attorneys "have requested more than a million dollars in undocumented and excessive attorneys' fees in a case where two of the plaintiff's three claims were summarily dismissed and those dismissals were upheld on appeal."
Mr. Barham's response was that "seven years of litigation comes with a price tag."
"This is just a standard attorney's fee application that Congress has authorized because it recognizes that, look, people like Dr. Adams wouldn't be able to pursue these kind of claims if Congress didn't allow folks to be able to claim their attorneys' fees when they win these cases," said Mr. Barham.
In an April 11 letter, Mr. Goolsby urged the UNCW board of trustees to refrain from appealing the decision, saying that, "Substantial taxpayer resources were already expended in this litigation and an appeal would require substantially more."
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