A California appeals court has affirmed the dismissal of a defamation and retaliation lawsuit brought against Stanford Law School by a graduate who claimed that a law professor blacklisted her with San Francisco Bay Area law firms.
A three-judge panel of the Sixth District Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s ruling that plaintiff Usha Viswanathan had supplied insufficient evidence to move forward. The court issued the unpublished opinion on August 24.
“Clearly plaintiff has experienced considerable emotional and professional challenges since her graduation from Stanford Law School in 1994,” the court wrote. “Nevertheless, defendants established that because plaintiff would not be able to prove the elements of her defamation and related claims, they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Viswanathan said in an interview on August 28 that she plans to file a petition for a rehearing and was prepared to take her case to the California Supreme Court.
“I presented strong circumstantial evidence that the court ignored,” she said. “This case should have been resolved a long time ago, but the court has been very reluctant to find Stanford liable for any wrongdoing.”
The law school said in a formal statement that it was “pleased that the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that there was no evidence to support any of Ms. Viswanathan’s claims against Stanford.”
Viswanathan has a long history of litigation against her alma mater and professor Robert Weisberg. She first sued the school in 1997, claiming it did not steer minority women toward the same job opportunities as it did white students. That suit was dismissed in 2001, as were several subsequent claims by Viswanathan that the school retaliated against her because of her litigation.
Viswanathan sought a temporary restraining order against Weisberg in 2006, alleging that he had orchestrated “hang-up” calls to her phone and had students monitor her in the law school library, according to the opinion. The judge found insufficient evidence to grant the order.
Viswanathan again sued the law school and Weisberg in 2009, alleging that he had systematically discouraged law firms from hiring her for at least eight years. Her suit argued that Weisberg carries significant clout among Bay Area legal employers.
The complaint claims that she had pretended to interview with one law firm in 2009 and asked Stanford to send a transcript. The firm received a computer-generated voice mail that called Viswanathan a “dangerous personality” and claimed she stalked a Stanford professor, the complaint says.
According to that complaint, Viswanathan hadn’t held a full-time legal job in eight years, with the exception of a one-year stint at a small firm that laid her off in late 2008.
She represented herself in her suit, which alleged defamation, retaliation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She said she lost $1.5 million in potential earnings as a result of the school’s and Weisberg’s actions.
In its response, the defendants said Viswanathan was “proceeding on nothing more than suspicion, speculation, and imagination,” according to the opinion.
“In summary, defendants presented evidence, through declarations and plaintiff’s own testimony, that plaintiff would be unable to produce any evidence supporting the claims in her second amended complaint, and plaintiff failed to produce admissible evidence raising a triable question of fact material to any of the issues raised in her complaint,” the court wrote.
Contact Karen Sloan at email@example.com.