A would-be law professor who claims the University of Iowa College of Law passed her over for a full-time teaching job because of her conservative views took her case to a federal jury on October 15 in a trial that is expected to last for a week.
Teresa Wagner first sued former Iowa dean Carolyn Jones in 2009 after the law school declined to hire her for a full-time, tenured position as a legal writing instructor. Wagner had spent the previous year teaching part-time in the school’s legal writing center and had worked at high-profile conservative organizations including the National Right to Life Committee and the Family Research Council.
She alleged in her complaint that the three full-time legal writing instructors that the school eventually hired had less experience. After losing out on the full-time job in 2007, she was refused a job as an adjunct instructor four times between 2007 and 2009.
Wagner also alleged that more than 90 percent of the law faculty’s members are registered Democrats and that several professors held “political views [that] are directly adverse to those held by the plaintiff.”
The law school initially responded in court documents that it didn’t offer Wagner the job because she failed to offer detailed plans for her proposed course. Iowa Assistant Attorney General George Carroll, representing the university, later filed documents claiming that Wagner had performed poorly during her interview.
Wagner’s case has drawn the attention of Republicans and conservative activists, who say it offers proof of liberal bias among public university faculties. Recent research into the political makeup of law faculties would appear to confirm that they skew liberal. A 2005 article in The Georgetown Law Journal concluded that the number of law professors who donate to Democrats far outnumbered those who gave to Republicans, while a 2010 study by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law found that law schools hired more openly liberal professors than openly conservative ones.
It initially seemed unlikely that Wagner would get her day in court. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Wolle dismissed her suit in April 2010, but a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit revived the case in December 2011.
“When the facts are viewed in their totality with all reasonable inferences being drawn in favor of Wagner, we believe that Wagner has presented sufficient evidence for a fact finder to infer that Dean Jones’s repeated decisions not to hire Wagner were in part motivated by Wagner’s constitutionally protected First Amendment rights of political belief and association,” the circuit court ruled.
A law school spokesman declined to comment on the trial, which is being held in Davenport, Iowa. The jury is expected to hear testimony from Wagner, Jones and several other faculty members, as well as from Wagner’s husband and others who will speak to the plaintiff’s financial and emotional damages.
Wagner is seeking economic damages and a teaching position.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org.