A former tenured professor at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center is fighting to get his job back after university administrators fired him amid concerns that he might bring a gun to campus.
Anthony Chase has been battling with the Davie, Fla., school in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida since June 7, 2011, when he filed suit alleging breach of contract and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
He seeks reinstatement, back pay and damages.
Chase and the law school have been grappling over discovery for months, with the most recent decision on June 18 coming down in favor of the law school. U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Seltzer ruled that the law school did not have to turn over material from witness interviews conducted during its internal investigation; an executive summary prepared by an attorney retained by the school to investigate the matter; or several memos and e-mails regarding the matter. Seltzer said the materials were protected by the work-product privilege.
Chase’s attorney, William Amlong of Amlong & Amlong in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., criticized the ruling. “Instead of conducting this as an HR investigation, they have buried the entire paper trail,” he said of the law school. “It ensures there is no accessibility, whatsoever, into the university’s thought process.”
Amlong said that Chase had been one of the most vocal opponents of the university’s handling of a dispute involving the unionization of janitors, and that administrators likely were unhappy with his dissent.
Nova’s attorney, Richard Beauchamp of Panza, Maurer & Maynard in Fort Lauderdale, did not return calls for comment.
According to Chase’s complaint, he began teaching at the school in 1979 and was tenured in 1985, although the school said in its response that he was tenured in 1984. He was placed on administrative leave on Oct. 7, 2010, after several colleagues reported that he had made statements involving a gun and what they took as threats of violence.
The school fired Chase by letter on Dec. 8, 2010, according to the complaint. Administrators cited several e-mails Chase had sent, including one to a fellow law professor complaining of his treatment by the facilities management staff. It read in part, “I have acquired a large Beretta hand gun and I take my ‘how to shoot’ course Tuesday or Thursday of the week,” according to the complaint.
In a separate e-mail chain, several law professors questioned Chase about whether he was serious about obtaining and using a gun, and expressed hope that he was not. Chase replied that he had a registered Beretta 8000 and a license to own it, the complaint says.
In an e-mail sent three days before he was placed on administrative leave, according to the complaint, Chase wrote that he was removing items from his office at night. “Just trying to avoid being shot,” he continued. “I can shoot pretty good from the windows into the parking lot.”
Amlong said that administrators had misconstrued the messages. That last comment, for example, was a joke referencing a seminar Chase had attended in which lead FBI investigator on the Beltway Sniper case said he would zig zag through the parking lot on the way to his car as a safety precaution, the complaint says.
Nova security officers searched Chase’s office and truck on the day he was placed on administrative leave but found no gun, according to the complaint, and administrators barred him from campus. In reality, according to the complaint, Chase never actually owned a gun.
Chase alleges that university officials perceived him to be “mentally deranged enough to engage in a campus shooting rampage.” That perception was not based on his actions, since a search turned up no gun and he lacked a concealed-carry permit, the complaint argues. Still, administrators perceived that Chase had a mental disability and fired him on that basis in violation of the ADA, it reads.
Additionally, Nova breached Chase’s contract for lifetime employment under the tenure system, the complaint says.
In its response, Nova denied that it had violated the ADA or other state and federal laws. “Defendant asserts that the employment actions taken with respect to plaintiff do not violate applicable employment laws; rather, such actions were based on facts other than unlawful discrimination and were taken for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons,” the school argued.
In this complaint, however, Chase denies that administrators believed he actually suffered a physical or mental impairment.
In another discovery fight, Seltzer on May 29 denied Nova’s motion to compel Chase to turn over medical records from his psychiatrist. Chase’s attorney argued that those records are protected under the psychotherapist-patient privilege.
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