368 F.Supp.3d 1217 (C.D.Ill. 2018), 15-cv-2275, Wozniak v. Adesida

Docket Nº:No. 15-cv-2275
Citation:368 F.Supp.3d 1217
Party Name:Louis WOZNIAK, Plaintiff, v. Ilesanmi ADESIDA, Michael Hogan, Robert Easter, Laura Clower, Barbara Wilson, Christopher Kennedy, Phyllis Wise, Matthew Finkin, and Eric Johnson, Defendants.
Attorney:Stuart D. Polizzi, Naperville, IL, Michael J. Tague, Flynn Palmer & Tague, Champaign, IL, for Plaintiff. William J. Brinkmann, Kenneth D. Reifsteck, Nathan T. Kolb, Philip Jeffrey Pence, Thomas Mamer & Haughey LLP, Champaign, IL, for Defendants.
Case Date:September 28, 2018
Court:United States Bankruptcy Courts, Seventh Circuit

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368 F.Supp.3d 1217 (C.D.Ill. 2018)

Louis WOZNIAK, Plaintiff,


Ilesanmi ADESIDA, Michael Hogan, Robert Easter, Laura Clower, Barbara Wilson, Christopher Kennedy, Phyllis Wise, Matthew Finkin, and Eric Johnson, Defendants.

No. 15-cv-2275

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Urbana Division

September 28, 2018

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Stuart D. Polizzi, Naperville, IL, Michael J. Tague, Flynn Palmer & Tague, Champaign, IL, for Plaintiff.

William J. Brinkmann, Kenneth D. Reifsteck, Nathan T. Kolb, Philip Jeffrey Pence, Thomas Mamer & Haughey LLP, Champaign, IL, for Defendants.




A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff’s Complaint (# 1) was filed November 13, 2015, alleging three counts. Count I alleged unlawful First Amendment retaliation and prior restraint, Count II alleged a violation of Plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law, and Count III alleged a state law pendent claim.

Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss on March 14, 2016, and February 9, 2017 (# 12, # 31). This court ruled on Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss on July 22, 2016, and March 17, 2017 (# 25, # 35), dismissing Defendant Board of Trustees on grounds of sovereign immunity, dismissing as time-barred Plaintiff’s claims insofar as they sought relief for adverse actions that occurred prior to November 13, 2013, and dismissing Count III for lack of jurisdiction.

This matter is now before the court on Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (# 64) and Defendants’ Motion to Strike Plaintiff’s Response to Motion for Summary Judgment (# 70). Both motions are fully briefed and ready for ruling.

B. Factual Background

The facts are taken from Defendants’ Statement of Undisputed Material Facts,1 Plaintiff’s Additional Facts,2 attachments to the Complaint, and supporting exhibits.

1. Pre-2009 Facts

Plaintiff began teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (hereinafter, "the University") in the 1960s. Plaintiff includes many facts about things that happened between himself and the University before 2009, going all the way back to 1992. It is enough to say that Plaintiff has had a contentious relationship with the University. His disputes have included a dispute over who would head the Engineering Department and a dispute over University grading requirements. The grading requirements disagreement ultimately

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resulted in a federal suit by Plaintiff against the University. In affirming summary judgment for the University in that suit, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals noted that "[a]fter 28 years of teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Louis Wozniak became a rebel." Wozniak v. Conry, 236 F.3d 888, 889 (7th Cir. 2001). Plaintiff has continued conducting himself as such, ultimately giving rise to the facts underlying this suit.

2. The Teaching Award, Plaintiff’s Investigation, and the University’s Initial Response

The events relating to Plaintiff’s termination began at an awards banquet in the spring of 2009 when an award that Plaintiff believed he should have received was given to another professor. The award was a teaching award given by two autonomous student honor societies. The award selection process was not a function of the University.

"Student A" led one of the honor societies, and another student led the other honor society. Lynell Lacy, the Coordinator of Development, Alumni and Student Relations, helped oversee the Awards Ceremony.

As to the award process, a Survey Monkey online poll was emailed to graduating seniors to select the winner. In a February 19, 2009, email from Student A to the other student honor society leader and Lacy, Student A communicated the results of the survey (which Plaintiff terms an "election") showing Plaintiff received 20.9% of votes, while Drs. Sreenivas and Abbas each received 18.6%. In that email, Student A then wrote "Plaintiff won two years ago, so I think we should go with one of the other two, but they got the same number of votes" before asking Lacy for suggestions to break the tie between Drs. Sreenivas and Abbas. The other student involved in the award selection process replied to Student A and Lacy, before Lacy replied, stating, "I vote we chose [sic] like Abbas for faculty because he encompasses both [Industrial Engineering] and [General Engineering] with his Decision Analysis focus." The next day, Lacy replied, informing the students that, "Professor Abbas recently won the NSF CAREER Award, a highly coveted and exceptionally competitive award for faculty in the early stages of their career, so if the decision were left to me, that would be my suggestion." Abbas received the award.

After Plaintiff did not receive the award, he took it upon himself to "investigate" the matter, asking Student A to stop by his office, which Student A did. Plaintiff questioned Student A about why he did not receive the teaching award. During the conversation, Student A began crying. Student A also told Plaintiff to speak with Lacy. Plaintiff spoke with Lacy about the teaching award. During the conversation, Lacy asked Plaintiff how he found out about receiving the most votes, to which Plaintiff replied "well, I don’t disclose my sources." Lacy told Plaintiff that the department head, Jong-Shi Pang, "knew about this."

Thereafter, Plaintiff drafted a document he entitled "Pangi Scheme," detailing his claim of departmental interference in the teaching award selection process. The "Pangi Scheme" document disclosed Student A’s role in the award selection process, and the fact that Student A "broke into tears and apologized several times." Plaintiff did not refer to her by name in the document, but he did provide information sufficient to identify her. Plaintiff circulated the "Pangi Scheme" document to faculty and staff, and added to his email signature a link to his website where he posted the "Pangi Scheme" document.

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Later, Plaintiff contacted the two, now former, students who headed the teaching award selection process, asking that they speak with him. Neither student responded, so Plaintiff had his counsel write the students and request that they speak with him. After being contacted by one of the students, Associate University Counsel (and Defendant here) Laura Clower wrote to Plaintiff’s counsel, attorney Michael Tague, informing him that neither student wished to speak with Plaintiff.

As Associate University Counsel, Clower represented the University, with all employees of the University potentially falling within the ambit of her representation. Part of Clower’s duties included being available to provide advice and counsel to University personnel.

On February 4, 2010, Plaintiff filed a breach of contract lawsuit seeking money damages in the Circuit Court of Champaign County, Case No. 10-LM-151, against the two former students who headed the 2009 teaching award selection process. No written or oral contract existed between Plaintiff and the two former students. Plaintiff testified in his deposition that the purpose of this lawsuit was to interrogate the students regarding the teaching award selection process, with the plan to dismiss the lawsuit after getting the information. The lawsuit was dismissed for failing to state a claim on May 12, 2010.

On March 30, 2010, the Dean of the College of Engineering (and Defendant here), Ilesanmi Adesida, wrote to Plaintiff setting forth his expectation that all interactions with students be professional and appropriate, and specifically included instructions that Plaintiff refrain from further involvement of any students in his concerns about the teaching award.

As Dean, Adesida served as the chief executive officer of the College of Engineering, having the duty to protect the academic mission of the college, and to protect the academic welfare of the students.

Sometime in the spring of 2010 Plaintiff gave a video-recorded interview during which he discussed the circumstances surrounding the award, including his meeting with Student A. In the video, Plaintiff disclosed the fact that Student A cried during their conversation and, by also disclosing Student A’s role in the student honor society, provided information sufficient to identify Student A. This video was eventually posted to YouTube, where it was publicly accessible, and Plaintiff began including a link to the video in his email signature.

On August 6, 2010, Dean Adesida wrote to Plaintiff informing him that his teaching and advising duties had...

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