A professor in Florida, who was fired over tweets criticizing systemic racism during the summer of 2020, then reinstated, is suing the university board of trustees.
Charles Negy filed the lawsuit on Thursday alleging that University of Central Florida (UCF) Board of Trustees violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, engaged in negligence and abuse of process and imposed emotional distress when the university fired him in 2021 after a months-long investigation into his career, the lawsuit reads.
UCF began the investigation after several protests, and an online campaign called on the university to terminate his employment after he tweeted several posts that black individuals are not “systematically oppressed” in the United States between May 29 and June 3, 2020.
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“If Afr. Americans as a group, had the same behavioral profile as Asian Americans (on average, performing the best academically, having the highest income, committing the lowest crime, etc.), would we still be proclaiming ‘systematic racism’ exists?” one tweet, which has since been deleted, read, according to Legal Insurrection.
A second tweet read, “Black privilege is real: Besides affirm. action, special scholarships, and other set asides, being shielded from legitimate criticism is a privilege. But as a group, they’re missing out on much needed feedback.”
As The Free Press reported in May of 2022, an arbitrator ruled that the UCF did not show “just cause” in firing Negy and ordered the institution to reinstate him with back pay and benefits.
The order did not “compensate Negy for the massive losses he incurred on the sale of his home; for the out-of-pocket medical expenses he faced after UCF’s destruction of his life led him to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression; or for the severe emotional distress he suffered for nearly two years at the hands of UCF administrators who, because they disliked his political views, treated him as less than human.”
As the arbitrator noted in the ruling, UCF could not dump Negy for the tweets because they were protected speech under the First Amendment.
But after eight months of looking, the university found a reason. It arrived there after what his attorney called an “inquisition,” in which Cartwright opened the door to mob rule by accepting claims about Negy’s teaching style and classroom statements going back 15 years, which he was forced to try to defend, including under nine hours of interrogation about the complaints.
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In its January 2021 termination letter, UCF accused Negy in part of creating “a hostile learning environment for your students through discriminatory harassment” and for not reporting a 2014 incident in which a student claimed she told Negy a teaching assistant had sexually assaulted her.
Yet as noted by the website Legal Insurrection, which took up Negy’s cause, no student had complained about Negy until Cartwright solicited such gripes in the wake of Floyd’s death and the demand that Negy be fired.
But UCF had another problem. As the arbitrator noted, Negy was tenured for 18 years and had received “consistently outstanding annual evaluations,” awards, and even a “special pay adjustment” that was “designed to persuade him not to leave UCF.”
“There is no evidence that UCF gave him reason to believe he was anything but as highly esteemed as his evaluations and treatment, with no reason to perform differently.”
Yet, as Legal Insurrection claimed, UCF worked “to find a pretext to fire Negy without having to admit it was the tweets and the online mob at issue.”
The arbitrator, Ben Falcigno, seemed to recognize that. He ruled that UCF fired Negy without just cause.
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“UCF made the basic mistake of acting as if management bore no responsibility. Nor did it give consideration to the messages in the form of evaluations and rewards sent year after year to validate Dr. Negy’s teaching, and now it wants to blame only him – with capital punishment – for what it retroactively sees as serious misconduct,” he wrote. “It does no justice to claim it made enormous evaluations errors for 20-plus years and then castigate the employee with termination.”
“Just Cause requires more consideration of Dr. Negy than what UCF offered. It is not a matter of sufficiency of evidence to prove misconduct years after the fact after you have heaped accolades for the performance period now being reviled.”
In a May statement, UCF Assistant Vice President for Communications Chad Binette said, “UCF stands by the actions taken following a thorough investigation that found repeated misconduct in Professor Negy’s classroom, including imposing his views about religion, sex and race. However, we are obligated to follow the arbitrator’s ruling.”
Negy seeks a declaration that UCF violated his right to free speech, an injunction prohibiting retaliation for protected speech, and monetary damages, according to the lawsuit.
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