E-Alert Case Updates
Limited First Amendment Rights for College Professors
McReady v. O’Malley
A professor began employment with the University of Maryland University College (“UMUC”) as a Collegiate Associate Professor and Assistant Academic Director of Accounting. He later vacated the Assistant Academic Director of Accounting position and began the twelve month Collegiate Associate Professor position within the Accounting Department. Soon after, UMUC undertook a search to fill the vacant Assistant Academic Director of Accounting position. The professor was approached about being considered for the position, but he declined. He later communicated that he would be interested in returning to the position if he received either a higher salary or a three-year contract. The UMUC administration denied both requests.
Several months later, the professor was removed from his face-to-face classroom course work and re-assigned to the online course selection. His position in the face-to-face class was filled by another professor. Starting in the Spring 2007, the professor wrote several hostile emails challenging the administration’s decision to replace him in the face-to-face classroom. Soon, the professor was informed that his contract, which was up for renewal in June 2008, would not be renewed. The professor continued in his complaints about the administration’s decision of replacing him with another professor.
In August 2007, the professor was terminated for cause because of his willful neglect of duties and insubordination.
The professor sued UMUC and various university officials asserting that his First Amendment right to speech was violated. The United States District Court for the District of Maryland explained that public employees surrender some of their First Amendment rights by reason of their employment. The First Amendment protects speech only if the employee spoke as a citizen on a matter of public concern. Here, an employee’s speech contesting managerial decisions does not touch on matters of public concern. The professor complained about the duties that he was asked to perform and the administration’s decisions to reassign him to online courses rather than face-to-face classroom courses.
The record demonstrated that the professor made increasingly hostile statements directed towards the managerial decisions and the administration. Such speech is not entitled to First Amendment protection. Furthermore, if an employee’s speech hinders the working relationships of other personnel, the employee’s speech interests are outweighed by the employer’s interest in maintaining order and efficiency. The professor’s constant challenge of the administration’s decisions that were increasingly hostile undermined UMUC’s ability to maintain discipline in the school. As an example, the professor made it a habit of copying multiple members of the Accounting Department on his lengthy and insubordinate and hostile emails to the administration. The receipt of the emails undoubtedly interfered with the other professors’ ability to do their jobs and to teach in their classrooms.
The United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted summary judgment in favor of UMUC.
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