The question of whether the University of Iowa College of Law discriminated against a job candidate because of her conservative views remains unanswered after the trial ended in confusion.
A Davenport, Iowa, jury on October 24 found that former Iowa dean Carolyn Jones did not violate plaintiff Teresa Wagner’s First Amendment rights when it failed to hire her for a full time faculty position in 2007.
However, the panel failed to reach a verdict on the second count, which alleges that the school’s hiring process was not impartial and denied Wagner due process and equal protection of the law. U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Shields declared a mistrial on that count.
Wagner’s case was being closely watched by the higher education community, for fear a verdict for Wagner could lead to more lawsuits by academics claiming political bias.
As the matter stands, the case may be retried only on the second count, but Wagner’s attorney, Stephen Fieweger, has asked Shields to vacate the verdict in favor of Jones on the First Amendment count. He argued that Shields asked jurors whether they had reached agreement only after announcing that he was declaring a mistrial.
“It’s very bizarre,” Fieweger said. “How can you accept a verdict after you declared a mistrial?”
Additionally, Fieweger said, he was entitled under federal law to poll the jury on the first count, but was not given that opportunity because Shields released the panel before announcing his acceptance of the verdict on the First Amendment count.
It appeared the jury struggled to decide whether Wagner’s conservative political activism played a part in her inability to secure a full-time teaching position at the law school Her complaint alleges the faculty comprised more than 90 percent registered Democrats.
Jurors began deliberating on the afternoon of October 22, after hearing close to five days of testimony from Wagner, Jones and a number of other Iowa law faculty members who handle hiring. Late on the morning of October 24, the jurors sent a note to the judge indicating they were nowhere near a verdict.
He sent them back to deliberate further but they remained deadlocked as the day drew to a close. Fieweger said he pushed for a mistrial by mid-afternoon, fearing any verdict would be compromised by the jury’s desire to go home. The jury remained deadlocked as of 4:30 p.m. Fieweger learned of Shields’ decision to declare a mistrial but accept the first-count verdict for Jones about a half an hour later, he said.
By that point, the jurors had been sent home and he couldn’t poll them about the First Amendment count, he said.
Wagner declined to comment on the outcome and referred questions to Fieweger.
“We respect the judicial process and we will continue to review our policies to ensure that all hiring and promotion practices at the university comply with the law,” university spokesman Tom Moore said in a formal statement.
Wagner initially sued in 2009 after the law school declined to hire her for a full-time, tenured position as a legal writing instructor. She had spent a 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 the school eventually hired had less experience than she did. 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.
A number of Iowa law faculty witnesses testified that Wagner wasn’t hired because she performed poorly during her interview. However, they acknowledged being aware of her political views. She is seeking economic damages and a teaching position. She seeks economic damages for lost wages and emotional distress, as well as a faculty teaching position.
Contact Karen Sloan at email@example.com.