Tag Archives: Florida Statute 112

Federal Appeal Filed Challenging Florida Atlantic University’s Unconstitutional “Outside Activities” Policy

Miami, Florida – Attorneys for James Tracy filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit of the summary judgment rulings granted by the District Court in favor of Florida Atlantic University (“FAU”) and various public university officials. Tracy’s lawyers also argue that the jury verdict should be reversed and the Court should grant judgment in Tracy’s favor as a matter of law.

James Tracy was a distinguished tenured faculty member in FAU’s School of Communications who taught journalism history, communication theory, and courses on the media’s coverage of conspiracy theories. Tracy received awards for his work, regularly earned excellent reviews, and was a former president of the FAU faculty union.

Despite Tracy’s outstanding academic record, FAU fired Tracy in retaliation for controversial posts he made on his personal blog questioning the legitimacy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. In January 2016, FAU terminated Tracy’s tenured professorship, falsely claiming he had been “insubordinate” for failing to disclose his blogging activity under its conflict of interest outside activity Policy.

On appeal, it is argued that summary judgment should have been granted in Tracy’s favor by the District Court, since the Policy FAU used to terminate his professorship is unconstitutionally vague “because blogging is not mentioned as a potential conflict of interest, key terms used within the Policy are undefined, and FAU does not have a policy on blogging.

Over twenty professors have blogs or other online speech activities, and Tracy is the only one to have ever been required to report, much less disciplined, for failing to report under the Policy. This is all the more compelling given that Tracy’s blog was publically available and well known to FAU, and his speech was widely reported and highly controversial.”

The record demonstrates FAU’s Policy violates the First Amendment “because it fails to provide employees with a reasonable opportunity to understand what blogging it prohibits and authorizes” and the Policy “did not provide sufficient guidance as to what blogging had to be reported, it could not be enforced without reference to the content of an employee’s speech, thereby facilitating viewpoint discrimination targeting disfavored speech. Indeed, FAU found Tracy’s posting violated the Policy despite having no policy at all on blogging while it fully protected expression that it favored.”

Additionally, Tracy’s lawyers argue that the jury verdict (that Tracy’s speech was not a motivating factor in his termination) is contrary to overwhelming evidence, and no reasonable jury could have determined that Tracy’s speech was not a motivating factor in his termination because:

  • Tracy’s blogging was obviously not a conflict of interest;
  • FAU’s reason for firing Tracy was legally insufficient;
  • FAU’s history of disciplining and monitoring Tracy’s blog;
  • FAU’s selective enforcement of a vague Policy;
  • Evidence of complaints and negative publicity;
  • FAU’s termination letter citing the blog; and
  • FAU emails celebrating Tracy’s termination.

Moreover, the District Court wrongfully excluded evidence that directly impacted Tracy’s ability to enforce his rights at trial.

The full brief is available here:

See also:

Legalizing Pretext: How an American Public University Conspired to Beat the First Amendment

The Death of Academic Freedom: Professor James Tracy Denied First Amendment Rights By Federal Court

TracyvFAU: A Very Dangerous Precedent

Through Jaundiced Eyes: Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinal’s Hardcore Bias in TracyvFAU Coverage

0

The Death of Academic Freedom

Prof James Tracy Denied First Amendment Rights by Federal Court

By Vivian Lee*

Global Research
American Herald Tribune
JamesFetzer.Blogspot &
OffGuardian

On December 11, 2017, in a serious miscarriage of justice, a jury in West Palm Beach, Florida, ruled unanimously in favor of Florida Atlantic University and against former Media Studies Professor James Tracy, who was suing for reinstatement after his firing in 2016. The jury found that Tracy’s “controversial” articles on Memory Hole Blog were not a “motivating factor” in his firing, the only question they were required to consider. Of course, Tracy’s posts at “his conspiracy theory blog” were indeed the reason he was fired, but the jury was convinced otherwise by FAU’s legal team with assistance from the judge. The case centered around Tracy’s writings on the anomalies found in the reporting on the Sandy Hook “massacre” of December 14, 2012. His skepticism about the event was not to the liking of the university.

Palm Beach PostJames Tracy with his attorney Louis Leo IV arriving at federal court. Image: Palm Beach Post.

FAU maintained that Tracy was not fired from his tenured position because of his blog posts, but because he did not follow the “rules” set out by “his bosses” at the government-run institution. FAU attorney G. Joseph Curley insisted that Tracy was not denied his First Amendment rights, but that he simply did not follow university procedure. “Professor Tracy doesn’t follow the rules,” Curley told the jury. “They’re rules that everyone else follows. He doesn’t play by the rules.” FAU cast the case as one of a “belligerent,” rebellious,” and “nonconformist” employee being let go for “insubordination,” instead of that of a tenured professor exercising his right to free speech.[1]

Atty G Joseph Curley Palm Beach PostFAU attorney G. Joseph Curley: “I could not be happier for FAU.” Image: Palm Beach Post.

FAU’s current “rules” require that faculty submit forms listing “outside activities” to be vetted for administrative approval, whether the activities are compensated or not. Tracy and other professors at FAU had argued that the policy is vague and confusing, constituting a form of prior restraint forbidden by the First Amendment, and leading to a climate of “fear and uncertainty” among the faculty. Aside from the fact that “outside activities” can reach into all aspects of a professor’s life and therefore be difficult if not impossible to list, such activities must not be subject to bureaucratic approval. And certainly, no tenured professor can be fired for not filling out a form, even at Florida Atlantic University.[2]

Continue reading The Death of Academic Freedom

0