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Judge Rules Against Ex-UNL Lecturer Who Claimed School Violated Her Rights After She Harassed Conservative Student Group

Judge Rules Against Ex-UNL Lecturer Who Claimed School Violated Her Rights After She Harassed Conservative Student Group

“I was denied justice and I still believe that my First Amendment right to freedom of expression was violated.”

A former lecturer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln named Courtney Lawton sued the school claiming her First Amendment rights to free speech were violated when the school fired her for taking part in a political protest. A judge has disagreed.

We covered the incident that sparked this lawsuit.

In 2017, Lawton and other members of the teaching staff harassed members of the conservative student group Turning Point USA, who were exhibiting on campus. It was ugly:

U. Nebraska-Lincoln Profs Harass President of Turning Point on Campus

Turning Point USA, founded by conservative activist Charlie Kirk, is an organization aimed at teaching students about “fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited governments.” Well, the president of the organization’s chapter at University of Nebraska-Lincoln received harassment as she recruited students on campus.

Worst part? PROFESSORS participated in the harassment. From Campus Reform:

According to chapter President Katie Mullen, at least three professors circled the table while carrying signs and yelling things like “f**k Charlie Kirk” and “TPUSA Nazis.”

Graduate teaching assistant Courtney Lawton was recorded yelling “Neo-fascist Becky right here. Wants to destroy public schools, public universities, hates DACA kids,” while giving the middle finger to the camera.

Here’s a video of Lawton. Bear in mind, according to the report linked below, this was eleven days after Lawton accepted her job assignment at the school:

U.S. District Judge Brian Buescher has ruled against Lawton’s claims.

KPVI News reports:

Judge rules against former lecturer in lawsuit alleging UNL violated her free speech rights

A judge has dismissed the lawsuit filed by a former University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate student and lecturer against the university alleging administrators violated her rights by removing her from teaching duties for participating in a political protest.

Asked about the ruling, Courtney Lawton said Friday: “I was denied justice and I still believe that my First Amendment right to freedom of expression was violated.”

She does not intend to appeal.

In court, her attorney, Vince Powers, argued he had alleged “copious and detailed facts” supporting her federal constitutional claims.

But in a 46-page decision this week, U.S. District Judge Brian Buescher said sovereign immunity barred all the claims against the Board of Regents, as well as UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green and then-NU President Hank Bounds, and said that Lawton hadn’t alleged Bounds’ personal involvement in any alleged federal constitutional violations.

“She has, at most, alleged facts consistent with the remaining individual defendant’s (Green’s) liability but well short of the line between possibility and plausibility,” the judge wrote.

On Aug. 25, 2017, Lawton was just 11 days into her appointment as a part-time English lecturer when she was filmed protesting Turning Point USA, a student organization with ties to then-President Donald Trump, at the Nebraska Union, a designated “free speech zone” on campus.

The video went viral and led to backlash from conservatives, who pointed to it as evidence the university was a hostile place for conservative students. In a tweet, Bounds called Lawton’s behavior “unprofessional.”

Read the legal opinion here.

Perhaps in the future, she’ll stick to teaching and not focus on harassing student groups.


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“Perhaps in the future, she’ll stick to teaching and not focus on harassing student groups.”

That’s an even bigger problem. I’d rather her political biases were displayed in the open, instead of indoctrinating students. My children are college students. Long ago, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) advised colleges against teaching grammar, because it discriminates against Blacks. Today, there is little instruction in grammar, from K-12-college. In Colleges most instruction is now about “voices” — endless instruction in the feelings of victims and how they are victimized. Students are encouraged, by being awarded high grades, by writing about how victimized they are. “Revolting” doesn’t come close to describe this overly effeminate speech control. They peer grade each others papers, so I’ve seen more than 20 of their fellow students’ papers.

    Dathurtz in reply to ruralguy. | June 15, 2022 at 10:38 am

    If you want grammar taught in K-12, then you have to either get rid of standardized testing or have grammar included in the scoring of the standardized tests.

    Right now I don’t know a single English teacher that intentionally teaches grammar until (maybe) after the testing windows.

      Edward in reply to Dathurtz. | June 15, 2022 at 1:26 pm

      Or teach your children, grandchildren (even our great-grands). I retired over 20 years ago from a job which required a degree and involved extensive report writing. The new hires were unable to write competent and complete paragraphs (much less entire reports) if their lives had depended on successfully doing so.

      mbecker908 in reply to Dathurtz. | June 15, 2022 at 3:00 pm

      Home school.

      Lack of grammar instruction is a problem, but in the book of things that are really, really wrong with public schools, lack of grammar instruction is on page 258.

        ruralguy in reply to mbecker908. | June 15, 2022 at 4:37 pm

        Grammar is the most important subject taught in schools. It teaches children to compose their thoughts, logically, with unity and coherence. It also teaches them to distinguish between concepts. Without seeing distinctions, children’s thoughts are a muddle. We see this muddled thinking in K-12 and in college.

        M Poppins in reply to mbecker908. | June 16, 2022 at 12:51 pm

        I couldn’t disagree more strongly. Grammar is an essential part of thought and language; to lose grammar is to lose logic and coherence.

    gibbie in reply to ruralguy. | June 15, 2022 at 6:13 pm

    My daughter’s 10th grade English teacher confided in about 1993 that she was forbidden to teach grammar because it disadvantaged certain demographic groups. She said she had students begging her to teach them grammar after school.

      M Poppins in reply to gibbie. | June 16, 2022 at 12:52 pm

      utter madness – those “demographic groups” are even more disadvantaged after not being taught.

    DaveGinOly in reply to ruralguy. | June 16, 2022 at 11:50 am

    “In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching Remedial English in college.”
    Joseph Sobran

The legal takeaways seem to be:
1. Get a better Attorney
2. Articulate an actionable claim
3. Exhaust all other remedies before running to Fed CT

This lefty Karen was reassigned from teaching duties and it made her mad. She had poorly crafted responses to defendant’s motions. She failed to exhaust administrative and State level remedies. She presented a very lame property right interest argument to continued classroom instruction duties, among other insufficient claims, and got soundly rejected.

    SeiteiSouther in reply to CommoChief. | June 15, 2022 at 10:25 am

    As a reader of LASC digests, that is the current theme: “Failure to exhaust administrative remedies” pops up a lot, especially in employment law cases.

    Danny in reply to CommoChief. | June 15, 2022 at 1:12 pm

    This is a nit pick but for your 1, I don’t think that is fair. She had no case. I think Clarence Darrow would have lost.

      CommoChief in reply to Danny. | June 15, 2022 at 2:17 pm

      Too narrow in your thinking; a better Attorney would have told her to save time and money by not bringing the suit.

      tbonesays in reply to Danny. | June 16, 2022 at 4:10 pm

      How is what she spoke not free speech? This is a government university that has to respect her first amendment rights (in a lol ‘free speech’ zone)

It took five years for this to play out?

This is why we cannot look to the courts to overturn government overreach.

The video, with the exception of the plaintiff flipping “THE BIRD,” is tame.

The plaintiff, who wants to be a teacher, should have learned from kindergarten not to insult others.

If I owned a business, I would never want to have an employee that is hostile to others in public.

Can someone explain this simply? I’m a conservative and not a fan of speech/behavior such as Lawton’s but why isn’t her dismissal a violation of her free speech?

If she had a better lawyer who filed the complaint differently, would Lawton have won?

Is it an employer issue in a right to terminate employees state?

Is it a technicality – no one in any level of government acted against her free speech?

    Danny in reply to 7Ford7. | June 15, 2022 at 1:24 pm

    Because your employer has a right to make sure you as an employee behave in a professional manner at the work place (which a University is). Once you sign the dotted line and agree to a code of conduct your employer is permitted to hold you to them unless there is a point of law that code of conduct violates. The students at this university are promised a fair chance from their professors and the president/deans are permitted to react to professors who fail to live up this promise. Employers are permitted to force their employees to provide the customer with what was advertised (i.e. a fair chance at education instead of leftists only).

    It is not a technicality. If you work at Baskin Robbins and get fired for telling customers we spit in the Ice Cream that is on you. She got merely demoted for telling conservative students we think you are nazis (i.e. you will get an F if I get you in a course).

    Freedom of speech is not nor has it ever been absolute in this country.

      drednicolson in reply to Danny. | June 15, 2022 at 4:30 pm

      Who decides the completely relative and subjective less-than-absoluteness? That’s always been the rub.

      DaveGinOly in reply to Danny. | June 16, 2022 at 12:09 pm

      What you described (correctly, IMHO) was a voluntary surrender of a right. (You can also agree to limit your personal freedom.) An individual has a right to surrender some (or all) of his rights. The lecturer surrendered some of her rights, by agreeing to abide by a code of conduct, in return for a benefit – a job. What you described is not evidence the freedom of speech is “not…absolute.” She agreed to curtail her own fee speech rights.

    ruralguy in reply to 7Ford7. | June 15, 2022 at 1:25 pm

    Free speech doesn’t include the right to defame, threaten, or use fighting words. The three professors that circled the table were engaged in aggressive hostile behavior towards students that bordered on threats — fighting words. That’s relevant, because they are professors at a college who had enough authority over students to carry through with those threats. The lecturer defames by saying the students hate DACA kids and wants to destroy schools. That’s really not speech. It’s slander, because the students can prove those statements are wrong, with the intent of destroying their reputations as students. She is not certainly not engaged in a speech challenging the students. Giving them the finger is not the professional behavior any employer would tolerate towards others in their workplace. It’s immature and the college likely has the contractual right to employ her “at will.” All in all, this lecturer is not engage in speech, but rather in harassments, defaming, threatening, and immature conduct. Not an ideal employee.

      DaveGinOly in reply to ruralguy. | June 16, 2022 at 12:31 pm

      It is “free speech.” You’re “free” to do anything, but you’re responsible for your actions if you harm an innocent party. You are free to murder (the state can’t stop you unless it has sufficient cause to believe you’re planning to commit a crime), but you are also responsible to face the consequences of abusing your freedom to commit a crime.

      OTOH, you also have “rights.” Rights are, like freedoms, absolute. You have a right to arms. You don’t have a right to murder. When you injure an innocent party, you’re not “abusing a right” (as you might abuse your freedom), you’re committing a crime. Police arrest people for committing crimes, not for “abusing their rights.” “Rights” are absolute, but self-limiting.

      As I pointed out in an earlier comment (above), the lecturer agreed to limit her own freedom and to give up certain rights as a condition of employment.

    CommoChief in reply to 7Ford7. | June 15, 2022 at 1:33 pm

    Overly simplistic explanation attempt:

    1. She was arguing that removal from classroom instruction duties violated her property right interest in those duties
    2. That her removal was based upon her speech but not conduct: inter posing a heckler’s veto
    3. That the process of her removal wasn’t fair; that it violated due process

    Again that’s way simplified and there are other issues but that’s the main thrust.

    The CT ruled that:
    1. She had not established any property right interest in classroom teaching. Why? She was less than two weeks into the job and she wasn’t fired, she was reassigned other duties during the remainder of her contract.
    2. Her filings didn’t state what her actual speech on that day was; she didn’t quote herself and then attempt to show that her actual words used were the basis for her reassignment. The CT was not impressed with her attempt to brush over the actual content of her speech.
    3. Her due process claims were rejected because her own filings to the CT acknowledged that there was ample process and opportunity for her to present her side to the University.

    I suggest reading the CT ruling from the link in the article. The Trial Judge does a nice job of laying out what and why he ruled in a very straightforward way. No legal training is needed to understand or comprehend the 56 page ruling.

    Bottom line, IMO is a better Attorney engaged on day one might have made a difference. If nothing else that Attorney would have told her not to waste time and money with this dog vomit of a case.

      tbonesays in reply to CommoChief. | June 16, 2022 at 4:13 pm

      1. Seems weak sauce. She was hired as a teacher and the told she could not teach.

      If she was a right wing teacher yelling ‘commie’ at the Democratic socialists all of LI would see that the U retaliated against her.

    cathammer in reply to 7Ford7. | June 16, 2022 at 11:42 am

    I doubt even an employer like, say, Starbucks would be on board with allowing an employee to spend her break time or day off harassing and threatening their customers.

Every place I have ever worked, the employer had 30 days to fire a new employee for any reason whatsoever. This harridan barely persevered for a third of that before establishing herself as a Difficult Person.

    Danny in reply to henrybowman. | June 15, 2022 at 1:30 pm

    She is extremely lucky not to have been fired outright.

    It isn’t that I am deluded into thinking Universities are what they advertise (they aren’t) but because behavior like this is the kind of thing that could get legislatures into action regulating college campuses to protect their voters.

    Edward in reply to henrybowman. | June 15, 2022 at 1:30 pm

    And some jobs have an extended probationary period long past 30 days, also with dismissal without cause.

    diver64 in reply to henrybowman. | June 16, 2022 at 9:01 am

    Standard in my line of work is a 90 day probation period. Gives the employer time to properly evaluate the persons skill, work ethic etc but also for the background checks to clear in case something was missed.

I don’t like bullies! And Cortney Lawson you are a BULLY!

Aristotle thought grammar was important, but he’s a DWM, and what did he know?