Jeffries v. Harleston, No. 953

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtMcLAUGHLIN; To focus the jury's attention on the proper issues; Conboy; In a published opinion; In addition; Finally, finding that the balance of equities weighed in Jeffries' favor
Citation21 F.3d 1238
Docket NumberD,No. 953
Decision Date18 April 1994
Parties90 Ed. Law Rep. 1033, 9 Indiv.Empl.Rts.Cas. (BNA) 686 Leonard JEFFRIES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Bernard HARLESTON, individually and in his official capacity as president of City College of New York, W. Ann Reynolds, individually and in her official capacity as Chancellor of City University of New York, James P. Murphy, Edith B. Everett, Herman Badillo, Sylvia Bloom, Gladys Carrion, Louis C. Cenci, Michael J. Del Guidice, Stanley Fink, William R. Howard, Harold M. Jacobs, Susan Moore Mouner, Calvin O. Pressley, and Thomas Tam, individually and in their official capacities as Trustees of City University of New York, Defendants-Appellants, Blanche Bernstein, Defendant. ocket 93-7876.

Page 1238

21 F.3d 1238
90 Ed. Law Rep. 1033, 9 Indiv.Empl.Rts.Cas. (BNA) 686
Leonard JEFFRIES, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Bernard HARLESTON, individually and in his official capacity
as president of City College of New York, W. Ann Reynolds,
individually and in her official capacity as Chancellor of
City University of New York, James P. Murphy, Edith B.
Everett, Herman Badillo, Sylvia Bloom, Gladys Carrion, Louis
C. Cenci, Michael J. Del Guidice, Stanley Fink, William R.
Howard, Harold M. Jacobs, Susan Moore Mouner, Calvin O.
Pressley, and Thomas Tam, individually and in their official
capacities as Trustees of City University of New York,
Defendants-Appellants,
Blanche Bernstein, Defendant.
No. 953, Docket 93-7876.
United States Court of Appeals,
Second Circuit.
Argued Jan. 21, 1994.
Decided April 18, 1994.

Page 1240

Kathie Ann Whipple, Deputy Bureau Chief, Office of Atty. Gen. (Robert Abrams, Atty. Gen., Jerry Boone, Sol. Gen., Clement Colucci, Asst. Atty. Gen., Roy P. Moskowitz, Asst. Gen. Counsel to the City University of New York, of counsel), for defendants-appellants.

Joseph Fleming, New York City (Melinda E. Weekes, Debra Ann Galloway, New York City, of counsel), for plaintiff-appellee.

Sheldon D. Camhy, Adrian Zuckerman, Lawrence A. Steckman, Camhy Karlinsky & Stein, New York City, Robert A. Machleder, New York Regional Board of Anti-Defamation League, New York City, for amicus curiae Anti-Defamation League.

Kenneth S. Stern, Samuel Rabinove, Wendy Lecker, Penina Goldstein, New York City, for amicus curiae American Jewish Committee.

Page 1241

Before: VAN GRAAFEILAND and McLAUGHLIN, Circuit Judges, and BURNS, District Judge. *

McLAUGHLIN, Circuit Judge:

In the summer of 1991, Leonard Jeffries was the Black Studies department chairman at City College of New York ("City College"), and he was the keynote speaker at an off-campus symposium on black culture. He spoke predominantly on the bias he perceived in New York State's public school curriculum. During the speech, Jeffries made several derogatory statements, particularly about Jews. The speech ignited a firestorm of controversy, the upshot being the decision by university officials to reduce Jeffries' upcoming term as department chairman from three years to one.

Jeffries sued the university officials in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Kenneth Conboy, Judge ), alleging that they reduced his term because of the content of his speech, in violation of the First Amendment. After a jury trial, the district court found six of the 14 defendant officials liable for violating Jeffries' rights. The court reinstated Jeffries as department chair, and awarded him $360,000 in punitive damages.

The defendants appeal, arguing that: (1) they did not abridge Jeffries' free speech rights; (2) they are protected from damage awards by the doctrine of qualified immunity; (3) reinstatement was improper; and (4) the punitive damage awards should be vacated as inconsistent with the jury's special verdict findings.

We hold that defendants violated Jeffries' right to free speech, and that the defendants are not shielded by qualified immunity. We also affirm the reinstatement order because it was an appropriate equitable remedy given the nature of the harm suffered. Because we find that the jury's responses were inconsistent with an award of punitive damages, however, we vacate these awards and remand for new trial on punitive damages.

BACKGROUND

The facts are largely undisputed.

A. The Parties

Jeffries is a professor at City College, and the chairman of the Black Studies department there. Bernard Harleston is the President of City College, which is part of the City University of New York ("CUNY") system. Ann Reynolds is the Chancellor of CUNY. James Murphy is the Chairman of CUNY's Board of Trustees; Edith Everett is Vice-Chair. The remaining defendants are CUNY Trustees.

Jeffries has chaired the Black Studies department since its creation in 1972. The CUNY by-laws state that a chairman's term lasts three years. Jeffries' sixth consecutive term was due to expire June 30, 1991, and on June 5, the Black Studies professors nominated him to another term as chairman.

At CUNY, faculty nominations for department chairs are subject to the approval of the City College President and the CUNY Board of Trustees. Because Jeffries' term was up at the end of June 1991, the Board should have voted on Jeffries at its June meeting. Due to an administrative error, however, the Board did not act on Jeffries' reappointment at that meeting. Despite the absence of formal Board action, Harleston sent Jeffries a letter on July 1 congratulating him on his reappointment. The letter did not mention that the Board had yet to approve his selection.

B. The Speech

On July 20, Jeffries delivered his now notorious speech in Albany, at the Empire State Black Arts and Culture Festival. Jeffries was introduced to the audience as the chairman of City College's Black Studies department, and as a former member of a committee organized to review the New York public school curriculum's treatment of minorities. The Festival was not affiliated with CUNY in any way.

Page 1242

Jeffries spoke for more than an hour, primarily criticizing the racial and ethnic biases he perceived in the public school curriculum. During the speech, Jeffries made several comments about Jews that were hateful and repugnant. For example, Jeffries launched several ad hominem invectives at specific state and federal officials who supported the curriculum, calling one an "ultimate, supreme, sophisticated, debonair racist," and a "sophisticated, Texas Jew." Jeffries also told his audience that Jews had a history of oppressing blacks. He said that "rich Jews" had financed the slave trade, and that Jews and Mafia figures in Hollywood had conspired to "put together a system of destruction of black people" by portraying them negatively in films.

C. The Aftermath

Jeffries' speech, which was initially broadcast on an Albany television station, received extensive media attention in the New York City area. On August 8, Harleston released a statement condemning Jeffries for undermining CUNY's policy of striving toward racial, ethnic and religious harmony, and indicating that he would "initiate a thorough review of this situation." Reynolds, Murphy, and Everett issued a press release the same day, saying that CUNY would "examine Professor Jeffries' actions and statements and, if warranted, ... pursue vigorously with City College the remedies that may be appropriate and available...."

Over the next few weeks, Reynolds and Harleston discussed with other CUNY administrators the possibility of removing Jeffries as department chairman. Harleston asked the City College Provost and the Dean of the Social Sciences division to review Jeffries' performance as department chair since July 1 to determine whether the publicity surrounding the speech hampered his ability to run the department.

One week later, the Social Sciences Dean sent Harleston a memorandum concluding that Jeffries had met his "ordinary administrative responsibilities ... during an extraordinary period of time." The Dean also cautioned, however, that his review was perfunctory, and that he would submit a follow-up report.

The Provost subsequently reported to Harleston that he had interviewed several people within and without the Black Studies department; according to the Provost, all of those interviewed stated that Jeffries was carrying out his duties adequately. The Provost told Harleston that Jeffries was scheduling courses, running department meetings, recruiting faculty, keeping records, and representing the department at meetings.

Harleston was not satisfied by these two reports on Jeffries' performance. He decided to recommend to the Board of Trustees that they reappoint Jeffries to only a one-year term--instead of the customary three-year term--as department chairman. Reynolds endorsed this planned recommendation. Neither Harleston nor Reynolds investigated whether the Albany speech would impair Jeffries' interaction with Jewish faculty, stigmatize the department or university, or dissuade benefactors from providing financial support.

D. The Board Meetings

The Board of Trustees met in late October, with Jeffries' reappointment on the agenda. Harleston recommended that the Board limit Jeffries' term to one year. The Vice-Chancellor for Legal Affairs, an attorney, warned the Trustees that they could not sanction Jeffries based on the content of his speech. Despite the Vice-Chancellor's admonition, Trustees Edith Everett, Herman Badillo, Blanche Bernstein, and Harold Jacobs voted to reject Jeffries' nomination outright, candidly explaining that their decision rested on the content of his speech. Nine other Trustees voted for Harleston's recommendation, however, and approved a one-year term for Jeffries, to expire at the end of June, 1992. (Trustee Sylvia Bloom abstained from the vote because she had made statements earlier criticizing Jeffries' views.)

Harleston wrote Jeffries of the Board's vote. In his letter, Harleston said that the speech threatened recruitment, fundraising, and CUNY's relationship with the community.

Page 1243

The Provost and Social Sciences Dean made oral follow-up reports to Harleston on Jeffries' performance. They recounted angry exchanges that Jeffries initiated with faculty and administrators regarding his limited term, as well as a bizarre tantrum that Jeffries threw during an interview with a student reporter from Harvard. In December, Harleston decided to replace Jeffries as chairman.

On March 20, 1992, three days before the next Board of Trustees meeting, Harleston announced to the Black Studies department that he planned to recommend that the Board approve Professor Edmund Gordon, retired chairman of Yale University's African-American studies department, to succeed Jeffries in July....

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36 practice notes
  • Signorile By and Through Signorile v. City of NY, No. 91-CV-3324 (JS).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • April 6, 1995
    ...shown that the defendant participated in or was a moving force behind a particular deprivation of federal rights. Jeffries v. Harleston, 21 F.3d 1238, 1247 (2d Cir.1994) (citations omitted), vacated on other grounds, ___ U.S. ___, 115 S.Ct. 502, 130 L.Ed.2d 411; see also Wagner v. County of......
  • Heller v. Bedford Cent. Sch. Dist., 15-cv-705 (KBF)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 17, 2015
    ...in general, touch on a matter of public concern regardless of the views expressed or positions advocated, see Jeffries v. Harleston , 21 F.3d 1238, 1245–46 (2d Cir.), vacated on other grounds , 513 U.S. 996, 115 S.Ct. 502, 130 L.Ed.2d 411 (1994) (“First Amendment protection does not hinge o......
  • Locurto v. Giuliani, No. 98 Civ. 6495(JES).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • June 24, 2003
    ...to the issue of whether it deals with a matter of public concern. Rankin, 483 U.S. at 386, 107 S.Ct. 2891; see also Jeffries v. Harleston, 21 F.3d 1238, 1245-46 (2d Cir.1994) (stating, in case involving racially offensive speech, "First Amendment protection does not hinge on the palatabilit......
  • Warburton v. Underwood, No. 97-CV-0988F.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • March 20, 1998
    ...its existence, or (3) a reasonable defendant would understand from existing law that his or her acts were unlawful. Jeffries v. Harleston, 21 F.3d 1238, 1248 (2d Cir.), vacated on other grounds, 513 U.S. 996, 115 S.Ct. 502, 130 L.Ed.2d 411 This incident occurred in early 1998. At that time,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
35 cases
  • Signorile By and Through Signorile v. City of NY, No. 91-CV-3324 (JS).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • April 6, 1995
    ...shown that the defendant participated in or was a moving force behind a particular deprivation of federal rights. Jeffries v. Harleston, 21 F.3d 1238, 1247 (2d Cir.1994) (citations omitted), vacated on other grounds, ___ U.S. ___, 115 S.Ct. 502, 130 L.Ed.2d 411; see also Wagner v. County of......
  • Heller v. Bedford Cent. Sch. Dist., 15-cv-705 (KBF)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 17, 2015
    ...in general, touch on a matter of public concern regardless of the views expressed or positions advocated, see Jeffries v. Harleston , 21 F.3d 1238, 1245–46 (2d Cir.), vacated on other grounds , 513 U.S. 996, 115 S.Ct. 502, 130 L.Ed.2d 411 (1994) (“First Amendment protection does not hinge o......
  • Locurto v. Giuliani, No. 98 Civ. 6495(JES).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • June 24, 2003
    ...to the issue of whether it deals with a matter of public concern. Rankin, 483 U.S. at 386, 107 S.Ct. 2891; see also Jeffries v. Harleston, 21 F.3d 1238, 1245-46 (2d Cir.1994) (stating, in case involving racially offensive speech, "First Amendment protection does not hinge on the palatabilit......
  • Warburton v. Underwood, No. 97-CV-0988F.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • March 20, 1998
    ...its existence, or (3) a reasonable defendant would understand from existing law that his or her acts were unlawful. Jeffries v. Harleston, 21 F.3d 1238, 1248 (2d Cir.), vacated on other grounds, 513 U.S. 996, 115 S.Ct. 502, 130 L.Ed.2d 411 This incident occurred in early 1998. At that time,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The Deconstitutionalization of Academic Freedom After Garcetti v. Ceballos?
    • United States
    • Review of Public Personnel Administration Nbr. 32-1, March 2012
    • March 1, 2012
    ...v. Grant, 516 F. Supp. 2d 1158 (C. D. Cal. 2007).Hong v. Grant, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 23504 (9th Cir. 2010).Jeffries v. Harleston, 21 F.3d 1238 (2d Cir. 1994).Jeffries v. Harleston, 52 F. 3d 9 (2d Cir. 1995).Kandel, W. L. (1994). Waters v. Churchill: Judicial deference to the reasonable empl......

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