932 F.3d 1008 (7th Cir. 2019), 18-3315, Wozniak v. Adesida

Docket Nº:18-3315
Citation:932 F.3d 1008
Opinion Judge:Easterbrook, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Louis WOZNIAK, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Ilesanmi ADESIDA, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Attorney:Stuart Polizzi, Attorney, Naperville, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant. William James Brinkmann, Kenneth D. Reifsteck, Attorneys, THOMAS, MAMER & HAUGHEY LLP, Champaign, IL, for Defendants-Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Easterbrook and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:August 06, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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932 F.3d 1008 (7th Cir. 2019)

Louis WOZNIAK, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Ilesanmi ADESIDA, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 18-3315

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 6, 2019

Argued May 15, 2019

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 15-cv-2275 — Colin S. Bruce, Judge .

Stuart Polizzi, Attorney, Naperville, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

William James Brinkmann, Kenneth D. Reifsteck, Attorneys, THOMAS, MAMER & HAUGHEY LLP, Champaign, IL, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Easterbrook and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Easterbrook, Circuit Judge.

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The University of Illinois fired Louis Wozniak in 2013. Until then he had tenure on the faculty of the College of Engineering. But after Wozniak waged an extended campaign against students who did not give him an award, the University’s Board of Trustees decided that he had violated the institution’s norms and rules, including the need to treat students with respect. As he had done before when the University insisted that he follow school policies, Wozniak responded with a federal lawsuit. He lost the last time, see Wozniak v. Conry, 236 F.3d 888 (7th Cir. 2001), and loses this time too.

The district court’s lengthy opinion granting summary judgment to the defendants, 368 F.Supp.3d 1217 (C.D. Ill. 2018), sets out all the pertinent facts, and then some, so we can be brief. Two student honor societies at the College of Engineering jointly give an annual teaching award. In spring 2009 they presented the award to Professor Ali E. Abbas. Wozniak thought that he should have received the award and set out to investigate. He called the head of one honor society to his office, aggressively interrogated her, got her to cry, and repeated the process with one of the University’s employees (who did not cry but was distressed). He then posted on his website information criticizing the student heads of the honor societies and enabling readers to determine their identities. That violated the University’s policies as well as conditions attached to the University’s federal grants. 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b).

The College’s Dean started tenure-revocation proceedings. The University’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure investigated, held hearings, and received submissions from the Interim Chancellor and Wozniak. The Committee concluded that Wozniak had engaged in several kinds of misconduct but that loss of tenure would be an excessive response. The University’s President presented the matter to the Board of Trustees, which held ultimate authority. It conducted its own hearing, including live testimony and cross-examination. Disagreeing with the Committee, the Board thought Wozniak’s conduct a firing offense.

One reason for the difference in opinion is what Wozniak did after the Committee issued its report: he posted the entire document, and all evidence the Committee received, on his website, revealing the identities of the students involved and the distress they felt at Wozniak’s conduct. He included a link to this material in the signature block of every email he sent from his University account. Wozniak did this after the Committee informed him that disseminating identifying information about the students would be grounds for dismissal. Told by the Dean to remove this material, Wozniak refused. Inconsiderate and insubordinate is the most charitable description one can attach to this conduct.

Before the Committee’s hearing, Wozniak had sought to interrogate the students further about the circumstances leading to the award. After they refused to speak with him, Wozniak filed a civil suit in state court seeking damages from them. He concedes that the sole reason for filing this suit was to get a judicial order requiring the students to sit for depositions, and that he planned to dismiss the suit as soon as that had been done. In other words,

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Wozniak concedes committing a tort against the students. (The tort is abuse of process.) In the event, the state judge dismissed the suit as frivolous before depositions occurred.

The Board concluded that students should not be treated as Wozniak had done and that students’ educational lives would be better without him on the faculty. Wozniak does not contend that the Board’s decision violated his tenure contract; instead he accuses the University of violating the Constitution of the United States.

His lead argument is that the First Amendment (applied to the states through the Fourteenth) entitles faculty members to...

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