After spending seven years trying to deny a promotion "rightfully due" to Christian professor Mike Adams because of his conservative views, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington was ordered by a federal judge last Tuesday to pay more than $700,000 in legal fees accrued by the professor in a protracted discrimination lawsuit with the institution.
"UNCW has spent seven years fighting a scorched earth legal battle to deny one professor a promotion that he is rightfully due and now that's going to cost the taxpayers $700,000," said Travis Barham, one of Adams' attorneys in a Star News Online report. "It's time for this [to] end."
Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm J. Howard ruled in the civil lawsuit brought against the school by Adams that UNC had to pay $698,131.50 plus $12,495 in non-taxable costs related to the professor's legal defense.
Adams accused UNC of religious and speech-based discrimination in a 2007 lawsuit after he was denied promotion to full professor in 2006. A federal district court had ruled in favor of the university in 2010, but that ruling was overturned by a federal appeals court in 2011.
In March a federal jury ruled that the professor's outspokenness about his beliefs was a "substantial or motivating factor" in UNC's decision not to promote him to full professor. UNC was ordered to pay him $50,000 in retroactive pay and promote him to full professor.
In an email to The Christian Post Monday, Janine Iamunno, executive director of UNC's Office of University Relations, explained that the school was not found liable for religious discrimination.
"A jury supported one of Mike Adams' three original claims against the university, that of speech retaliation. Previously, the district court granted summary dismissal of two of Adams' original claims, finding that there was no evidence of religious discrimination nor a basis for an equal protection violation. These two summary dismissals were upheld on appeal," she noted.
She also highlighted through a statement released by UNC last week that the legal fees awarded in Adams' case represented a 30 percent reduction on what his attorneys had initially asked for. Despite the reduction, the university still believes, however, that the fees are excessive and could further appeal the award.
"Though the university is gratified the plaintiff's request for fees and costs was reduced approximately 30 percent by the court, the state/university still believe the costs and fees to be excessive," UNC noted in the statement.
"The attorney hours listed were excessive and could not be substantiated, the case was overstaffed resulting in unnecessary attorney fees," it said.
"The state/UNCW had previously filed a notice of appeal and will now evaluate whether to proceed with the appeal and/or pursue an attempted resolution to be conducted by a mediator assigned by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals," the statement ended.
CP also reached out to University of North Carolina's Wilmington campus for comment on the ruling Monday but a response was not ready at the time this story was published.
Adams' lawyer noted, however, that UNC needs to understand it isn't above the First Amendment.
"The university needs to recognize that the First Amendment applies to them," Barham told Star News Online.
"UNCW could have avoided every single penny of this if they'd initially recognized back in 2006-'07 that Adams was fully qualified for his promotion, and if they'd just treated him fairly like they treat professors of other persuasions and world views," he added.