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January 22, 2009

Law school employee sues
for political discrimination

Brian Morelli
Iowa City Press-Citizen

A University of Iowa employee has filed a lawsuit claiming she wasn’t hired for positions in the UI College of Law because of her conservative political views.

Teresa Wagner, who has worked in the law school writing center since 2006, names law school dean Carolyn Jones in the suit, which she filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

“Even law professors have to obey the law in this suit. In dealing with liberals, Wagner thinks that having tolerance with liberals is a one-way street. You accept them. They exclude you,” Wagner said through her lawyer Stephen Fieweger of Katz, Huntoon, & Fieweger based in Moline, Ill.

Jones and UI officials said they had not yet seen the complaint. Fieweger sent a copy of the complaint to the Press-Citizen.

“We believe it is without merit and we will defend vigorously against it,” UI spokesman Steve Parrott said when told of the allegations.

Wagner, of Iowa City, applied in 2006 for an advertised full-time writing instructor position for a course called Legal Analysis, Writing and Research. She later applied for a part-time adjunct writing instructor position, according to the lawsuit.

She has been repeatedly denied those positions “for illegal reasons,” according to the filing. This violates her First and 14th Amendment rights, the lawsuit claims, and Wagner is asking for compensation for lost income, lost benefits and emotional damages.

The lawsuit states that at least 46 of the 50 or so faculty members in the law school that vote on faculty hires are registered Democrats in Johnson County, and the college has only one registered Republican among its voting faculty. That Republican was hired 20 years ago.

Voting law school faculty received Wagner’s resume, which reveals conservative political leanings through previous positions with the National Right to Life Committee, which opposes abortion and euthanasia, and the conservative Family Research Council.

The lawsuit alleges that Associate Dean Jonathan Carlson advised Wagner to “conceal” her affiliation to the “conservative” Ave Maria School of Law from voting faculty members. Carlson declined comment on Thursday.

Wagner was brought in for two interviews for the full-time position and received letters indicating there was support for her candidacy among UI law faculty, according to documents included in the lawsuit. However, she learned through Carlson that law professor Randy Bezanson was speaking out against her appointment, according to the lawsuit.

Lawsuit documents show that Bezanson worked as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe v. Wade, the court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. Bezanson has also written in favor of abortion, according to lawsuit documents.

Wagner said in the suit that Carlson told her that Bezanson did not like her presentation to the faculty, and that he mentioned her class rank and grade-point average as disqualifying factors for hiring. Wagner said that she graduated from the UI College of Law “with distinction,” as have other current UI faculty, and that those criteria weren’t mentioned in the requirements for the job. Using them against her amounts to “moving the goal posts after the ball has been kicked” -- in violation of due process laws.

Following her rejection for the two positions, Wagner said Carlson told her she should no longer apply for open full-time or adjunct jobs, the lawsuit said.

Evidence cited in the lawsuit includes faculty biographies for those that support opposing positions on issues. Wagner also lists her own professional experience, which includes multiple collegiate level teaching positions, and challenges the hires made for the two positions she sought.

Three writing instructor adjuncts with no prior law school teaching experience were hired at UI, including a recent graduate and former research assistant of Bezanson’s, according to the suit.

The hire for the full-time position had no prior law school teaching experience, had never practiced law and had no published works, according to the suit. He admitted he was not qualified and resigned after his second semester, Wagner alleges.

The UI history department, which had 27 Democrats and zero Republicans, faced criticism over political bias in 2007.

Mark Moyar, a historian with a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, a Ph.D. from Cambridge University and the author of two books, was turned down for a faculty position. Moyar had a conservative record in his research.

Moyar claimed political affiliation affected his candidacy and asked the UI Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity to investigate. The office concluded there was nothing inappropriate.