Eighth Circuit: Political Discrimination Suit Against Iowa Law School Dean May Proceed to Trial

By: Administrator on December 28th, 2011

By Ryan Koopmans

Today the Eighth Circuit reinstated a political discrimination lawsuit against Carolyn Jones, the former dean of the University of Iowa College of Law.  The case was brought by Teresa Wagner, a part-time employee in the law school’s writing center, who claims that Jones failed to hire her for a full-time position because of her (Wagner’s) conservative political views.  (Wagner is a registered Republican who, according to the Eighth Circuit, has actively advocated for socially conservative causes.)

The district court granted Jones’ motion for summary judgment, but a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit reversed that decision, concluding there was enough evidence for a jury to find that  Jones’ failure to hire Wagner was motivated by political bias.

Jones had claimed in the district court and on appeal that Wagner’s political beliefs did not enter her hiring calculus–the faculty voted not to hire Wagner, and Jones claims that she always adopts the faculty’s position.  But the Eighth Circuit ruled that a reasonable jury could come to the opposite conclusion.  After the faculty voted not to hire Wagner, then-Associate Dean John Carlson wrote to Dean Jones, expressing his concern that Wagner’s political beliefs might have played a part in that decision. Carlson also told Wagner that she should conceal from the faculty the fact that she received a job offer from a purportedly conservative law school.  That evidence–in addition to the fact that only one out of the 50 professors at the law school is a Republican–raises the question whether Dean Jones’ decision, and her reliance on the faculty vote, was based on Wagner’s political beliefs and was therefore in violation of the First Amendment. 

The case will now head back to district court for trial. 

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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
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