Teresa Wagner's lawsuit against the University of Iowa law school ended a few weeks ago when a jury declared that the school did not submit her to political discrimination when it rejected her application for a job. Wagner made a second allegation--that her equal protection rights were violated because the law school held her political activism against her--which was not ruled upon, the judge declaring a mistrial because the jury couldn't reach a decision, leaving open the possibility of future action by Wagner's attorney. Indeed, the Chronicle reports that Wagner has filed papers asking for a retrial on all counts.
The first verdict wasn't unexpected. Wagner had to prove that faculty members voted against her for her political views, which run well to the Right. But of course, nobody on hiring committees ever says outright, "She's a conservative--she's out!" They know better--Schmidt cites one witness who "testified that no faculty member would 'be stupid enough' to cite politics as the reason for turning down an applicant"--and besides, they don't have to. In the hiring process there are so many stages and variables that it's easy to drop a conservative candidate for a dozen other more or less non-political reasons. "She isn't a good fit," one might say, or "We already have strengths in her area, we need someone in another field," another could argue, or "I don't think she handled questions very well in the interview" could be the line. The outcome is assured and nobody needs to raise delicate matters along the way.
In Wagner's case, a clear distinction came up in her qualifications relative the person who got the job: She was one of five candidates chosen from a pool of 50 applicants invited to present to the university's faculty.
But that enthusiasm died soon after her presentation. The job was given to Matt Williamson, a candidate who had never practiced law, had no published works and was an ardent liberal who frequently criticized Republicans, according to testimony and court documents presented last week to the jury.
That a candidate who never practiced law and had no publications should prevail over Wagner sounds fishy. The Chronicle story relates, too, that the person hired resigned a year later for "poor performance." One could also mention the disparate-outcome argument so beloved by liberals: the law school has one registered Republican and 46 registered Democrats. Finally, one should note the email law professor and former associate dean Jon Carlson sent to the law school dean after the first rejection in which he worried that the faculty would balk at the hiring of Wagner due to "her politics (and especially her activism about it)."
But the faculty had an answer: she botched the presentation. When asked about teaching "legal analysis," an important part of the job, they say, she declined. Several witnesses repeated that criticism, even though Wagner never recalls saying so (she showed her pre-interview notes in court that displayed her intention to teach the subject), and a couple of witnesses agreed with her, including Carlson and Mark Osiel, another professor in the law school. The law school taped Wagner's presentation and could have offered the tape to settle the question. However, the university erased the tape months after the hiring process had ended.
The coda to this story is equally frustrating. Just last week reporter Jason Clayworth spoke with four members of the jury who told him that jurors did believe that political discrimination had taken place, but that they couldn't hold one person responsible. This outcome shows how far universities are able to fiddle with the hiring process with impunity. Here we have a jury convinced that political discrimination took place, but they can't convict because they have the wrong defendant. But the plaintiff couldn't pick another defendant; indeed, federal law dictated that the dean be made the "responsible party." So people who feel they've been treated unfairly face a Catch-22, and universities can carry on as usual.