It’s a been big day for the good guys in the growing struggle over academic freedom. While the New York Times is still trying to get tenured law professor Amy Wax fired for telling the truth at the Penn Law School, tenured business professor Bryan J. Pesta filed suit today against Cleveland State for in effect firing him for coauthoring one of the most important DNA-race-IQ studies of this century (see post below).
And University of Central Florida tenured psychology professor Charles Negy, who was fired in effect for retweeting my best stuff during the first week of the Mostly Peaceful Protests:
Negy had to sell his home and move in with relatives.
Fortunately, an arbitrator told UCF that they can’t do that and reinstated Negy. Now he’s suing for damages:
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA ORLANDO DIVISION
CHARLES NEGY, Plaintiff,
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA;
COMPLAINT AND DEMAND FOR JURY TRIAL
Plaintiff Charles Negy, by and through his undersigned attorneys, files this complaint for violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as for negligence, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of severe emotional distress. In support of this complaint, Charles Negy respectfully alleges as follows:
NATURE OF THE ACTION
1. In the name of a crusade “to be actively anti-racist,” as Defendant Alexander Cartwright announced on June 2, 2020, the University of Central Florida (UCF) harassed and retaliated against Professor Charles Negy because he dared to publicly express viewpoints out of step with the prevailing campus orthodoxy on anti-racism.
2. After Charles Negy posted several tweets to his personal Twitter account expressing his view that, contrary to the ascendant orthodoxy on campus, Blacks are not systematically oppressed in the United States, he became the target of a Twitter mob that demanded he be fired. Protests erupted at UCF and even at Negy’s home, leading him to require police protection.
3. Forbidden by the First Amendment to explicitly fire him for his tweets, UCF administrators publicly solicited people to come forward with complaints of discrimination and harassment against Professor Negy and then launched a malicious, pretextual investigation into every aspect of his 22-year career at the university.
As Beria used to boast to his boss Stalin, “You show me the man and I’ll find you a crime.”
4. UCF’s investigation culminated in a 9-hour interrogation of Professor Negy, during which a senior UCF administrator barraged Negy with hundreds of allegations that she had previously refused to give him notice of, despite his repeated requests. The interrogation—which included wide-ranging allegations, many of which bordered on the absurd—made clear that UCF was not merely investigating Negy for alleged harassment and discrimination, but rather was looking for any information it could use to get rid of a faculty member who had become politically inconvenient to the university administration.
5. Following an investigation which dragged on, without good cause, for 7 months, UCF summarily terminated Negy in January 2021. Maliciously invoking an inapplicable exception to the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) requiring that tenured faculty receive six months’ notice of termination, UCF terminated Negy effective immediately. As a result of this sudden loss of income, Negy—who is the sole caretaker of his mentally and physically disabled brother—was forced to sell his home and move in with a relative.
6. Negy pursued a grievance through his faculty union for violating the CBA, and in May 2022, an arbitrator ordered UCF to reinstate Negy with back pay and benefits, finding he was terminated without just cause. However, the award cannot compensate Negy for the massive loss he incurred on the sale of his home; for the out-of-pocket medical expenses he faced after UCF’s destruction of his life led him to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression; or for the severe emotional distress he suffered for nearly two years at the hands of UCF administrators who, because they disliked his political views, treated him as less than human.
7. Plaintiff Charles Negy is, and was at all times relevant to this Complaint, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Central Florida, where he has taught since 1998. …
Negy Engages in Political Expression on Twitter
17. At all times relevant to this Complaint, Professor Negy maintained a Twitter account for his personal use, using the handle @CharlesNegy. Negy’s Twitter profile does not mention his affiliation with UCF and states “Opinions are my own.”
18. Negy is a minority, being both gay and Hispanic, and in fact was identified by UCF in 1998 as a “Diversity Enhancement Hire.”
19. However, Negy holds opinions that do not align with the way the way minority individuals are expected to think by those in power at America’s colleges and universities, including UCF. In particular, Negy disagrees with the critical race theory that is ascendant on today’s campuses.
20. In light of national outrage over the fatal use of force by police against unarmed Black men and women, particularly the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, colleges and universities have come under tremendous pressure to take action to fight “systemic racism” on campus.
21. UCF has not been immune to this pressure. On June 2, 2020, for example, Defendant Alexander Cartwright, UCF’s president, issued a statement making “a commitment from our university to not merely celebrate our diversity, but to be actively anti-racist.” Defendant Cartwright’s message emphasized that education and reflection on these issues was insufficient, and that they “must be paired with action and a commitment to stand against racism in all its forms.”
22. In response to the national conversation around race happening
at that time, Negy posted several tweets to his personal Twitter account between May 29 and June 3, 2020, expressing his view that Blacks are not systemically oppressed in the United States.
UCF is Inundated by Demands to Fire Negy
23. Negy’s tweets garnered an angry response on social media. Almost immediately, the hashtag #UCFfirehim began trending on Twitter.
24. UCF quickly came under media scrutiny because of Negy’s tweets. See, e.g., Jason Dill, “A UCF Professor Tweeted About ‘Black Privilege.’ Then #UCFFireHim Started Trending,” Miami Herald (June 4, 2020), https://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article243261961.html.
25. The pressure on UCF mounted immediately. On June 4, 2020, UCF’s Assistant Vice President for Board Relations, Karen Monteleone, wrote UCF’s Board of Trustees to say the following: “A UCF professor’s personal Twitter posts have gone viral and have received significant media attention. Overnight, there have been thousands of posts on social media and hundreds of individuals have emailed university offices, including more than 175 submissions to the Board of Trustees account.” …
27. On June 11, 2020, UCF’s Student Senate passed a resolution calling on the university to fire Negy for his tweets. The resolution stated that “Negy’s comments and views are, in fact, being supported and not condemned in the strongest terms if his employment is continued at this university.”
28. Also on June 11, 2020, the Psychology Department sent out an official departmental message stating that the opinions Negy expressed on Twitter were “insensitive, hurtful, offensive, and wrong,” and urging students to come forward, even anonymously, with allegations of “classroom bias,” since that—unlike Negy’s constitutionally protected tweets—would be punishable.
29. On June 14, 2020, protesters gathered on the UCF campus to demand Negy’s firing, chanting “UCF, fire him!”
30. An online petition demanding that UCF fire Negy received more than 34,000 signatures. See “UCF: Fire Psychology Professor Charles Negy,” Change.org, https://www.change.org/p/university-of-central-florida-ucf-fire- psychology-professor-charles-negy.
UCF’s Administration Rushes to Placate Those Angered by Negy’s Tweets
31. The UCF administration acted immediately to mollify those demanding that Negy be fired for his protected speech.
32. On June 4, 2020, for example, Defendant Butler released a video statement on UCF’s official Twitter account effectively admitting that UCF hoped to have Negy fired. Butler stated, “We’re trying to do the right thing. Sometimes that takes change and takes time … The #UCFFirehim I understand all of that but the fact of the matter is it’s not going to happen overnight.” (Emphasis added.) …
36. Defendants’ post was intended to specifically target Negy. It stated that “we are disgusted by the racist posts one of our faculty members has shared on his personal Twitter account” and thanked students for speaking out about their outrage. Defendants’ post then stated: “If any student, current or former, believes they may have experienced abusive or discriminatory behavior by any faculty or staff member, we want to know about it. UCF takes every report seriously. Concerns can be reported to UCF’s IntegrityLine, which also takes anonymous complaints, at www.ucfintegrityline.com or 855-877-6049.”
37. On June 5, 2020, Negy was advised by UCF police that protesters were organizing to come to his home, and that he should be on guard for his safety. Negy wrote to Defendant Cartwright to say that “the way you have vilified me publicly has contributed to this situation,” and to ask Defendant Cartwright to send out a message cautioning students against violence and against protesting at people’s private homes. Defendant Cartwright did not send any such message.
38. Instead, on June 5, 2020, Defendants Cartwright, Butler, and
Johnson hosted a “Virtual Conversation about Race and Unity.” During that “conversation,” Defendant Cartwright called Negy’s tweets “abhorrent” and stated that “Although everyone has a right to their personal beliefs, we cannot allow that to cross over into our classrooms or into our workplace if it hurts people.”
39. The first question from a student during the June 5 “conversation” was “what avenues” UCF had open to fire Negy if his tweets were protected by the First Amendment.
40. Defendant Johnson answered that if a faculty member is “offensive” in the classroom, “we have the capacity to act.”
41. Later in the conversation, an incoming student asked “what is going to be done” about Negy. Defendant Butler answered that “the wheels are in motion in terms of what needs to happen in regards to that… believe that by the time you get on the campus as a freshman, it will have been dealt with.”
… 43. On June 13, 2020, egged on by UCF’s repeated expressions of outrage, UCF students protested in front of Negy’s home. After two hours of protesting at the entrance to Negy’s neighborhood, they drove up and down his street for 40 minutes, blowing their horns non-stop, with a megaphone, shouting to all of his neighbors “Negy is a racist” and “UCF must Fire Racist Negy.” Negy had six Orange County sheriff’s officers at his home that day, four of them parked in front of his house to prevent the UCF protesters from coming onto his property.
44. On June 14, Defendant Cartwright attended a protest held by students demanding Negy’s firing.
45. At the June 14 protest, one of the students in attendance said to Defendant Cartwright that Negy “should have been fired before he got tenure.” Defendant Cartwright agreed with the student, responding “[S]o, one thing is that. One is also looking at the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, I mean that office, honestly… is understaffed.”1 (Emphasis added.)
What DEI apparatchik has ever replied, “No, honestly, my budget is huge and I don’t need to build a bigger empire?”
UCF Subjects Negy to an Intrusive and Protracted Investigation
46. Negy has taught at UCF since 1998 and has received consistently superior performance reviews. In the four years leading up to his
1 https://twitter.com/UCFKnightNews/status/1272310037617291264 termination, he received an evaluation rating of “Outstanding” for his instruction and advising.
47. Following the administration’s public solicitation of complaints on June 4, 2020, however, UCF received a litany of allegations, many anonymous, about Negy’s classroom teaching.
48. Without informing Negy that there were complaints against him, UCF began an investigation.
49. Negy learned about this investigation the way the rest of the general public did: through the media.
50. Negy received no formal notice of this investigation until more than a month later, on July 17, 2020.
51. On July 17, 2020, Defendant Myers sent Negy a letter notifying him that he was under investigation by UCF’s Office of Institutional Equity (“OIE”), stating, “Beginning on June 4, 2020, OIE received multiple reports that you posted derogatory, discriminatory and unprofessional statements on a Twitter account, and that you subjected students to discriminatory harassment based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, sex, gender identity/expression, and disability in the classroom.”
52. The June 4, 2020 date identified by Defendant Myers was no coincidence: it was the date on which Defendants Butler, Cartwright, and Johnson posted their missive on UCF’s website soliciting people to come forward with complaints against Negy in a pretextual effort to justify firing him. …
58. On August 4, 2020, Negy responded to Defendant Myers’ email of July 31, expressing his concern that he would “like to produce witnesses who can attest that I did not say the things I am alleged to have said,” but that “with no information about when in the past 15 years I am alleged to have made each of these statements, I have no way of identifying relevant witnesses.”
… 65. During her 8+ hours of interrogation, Defendant Myers barraged Negy with a litany of accusations spanning 15 years. Most of these allegations were simply objections to Negy’s course content and pedagogy. For example, multiple individuals allegedly complained that he lectured about certain sexual practices specific to particular Native American and African tribes, despite the fact that this lecture on cross-cultural sexual practices is wholly germane to the subjects he teaches, has been a longstanding part of his pedagogy, and has never been the subject of a complaint in his student evaluations. …
67. Defendant Myers also asked Negy about a variety of allegations that had absolutely nothing to do with alleged discriminatory harassment, including whether he had ever bribed a health care official while traveling abroad and whether he used departmental resources while writing his book, demonstrating that this was not a good-faith investigation into allegations of harassment but rather a fishing expedition undertaken in the desperate hope of finding some basis to discipline Negy other than his constitutionally protected expression on Twitter.
71. At all times relevant to this complaint, UCF policy required that an investigation be completed within 90 days absent “good cause.” …
74. On December 1, 2020, with the investigation in its sixth month,
Negy again wrote to Defendant Myers to request information about the delay. He explained that “This protracted investigation is taking a terrible toll on me both personally and professionally and is causing irreparable harm to my reputation and professional opportunities,” and asked for “a meaningful update on the status of this investigation.”
However, on January 5, 2021, Negy was notified by Defendant Dupras that following “internal discussions” of his case to which he was not privy, he was being placed on administrative leave. While UCF’s faculty CBA permits employees to be placed on administrative leave at the start of an investigation, the circumstances of UCF’s sudden decision to place Negy at this stage—with opaque reference to unspecified “internal discussions”—was highly irregular, and was further evidence of Defendants’ retaliation against Negy for his protected speech.
Defendant Myers Finds Negy Responsible for Misconduct in Violation of the First Amendment
77. On January 13, 2021—180 days after Negy received his notice of investigation—Defendant Myers issued her investigative report. Defendant Myers’ report concluded that Negy had engaged in discriminatory harassment in the course of his classroom teaching. Defendant Myers also concluded that in 2014, Negy had failed to report inappropriate behavior allegedly committed by one of his teaching assistants.
I.e., a coed accused a grad student TA of flirting with her seven years before without Professor Negy calling in a dronestrike on the malefactor.
Comrade Stalin, we’ve found the crime!
79. Many of the alleged incidents of “discriminatory harassment” for which Defendant Myers found Negy responsible were in fact instances of speech protected by academic freedom and the First Amendment.
80. Indeed, in an unrelated lawsuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
Eleventh Circuit ruled in April 2022 that UCF’s “discriminatory-harassment policy likely violates the First Amendment on the grounds that it is an overbroad and content- and viewpoint-based regulation of constitutionally protected expression.”
Defendant Dupras Fires Negy Without the Required Notice, Leaving Him Homeless and Without Income
81. Also on January 13, 2021, Defendant Dupras issued Negy a letter notifying him of the university’s intent to terminate his employment at the close of business on January 25, 2021.
82. Under UCF faculty’s CBA, tenured faculty are ordinarily entitled to six months’ notice of termination unless their continued presence “jeopardize[s] the safety or welfare of…students.”
83. However, Defendant Dupras determined that because Negy had once allegedly failed to report inappropriate touching by his teaching assistant in 2014, his presence on campus in 2021 would “jeopardize the safety or welfare of…students” and thus he could be terminated immediately.
85. The immediate loss of income caused by the denial of six months’ notice forced Negy to rapidly sell his home at significantly below market value. This was particularly difficult because Negy had just assumed responsibility for the care of his physically and mentally disabled brother following the death of their last parent. At the time of Negy’s termination, his brother had just moved from Houston to Orlando to live with Negy.
86. Without income and now homeless, Negy and his brother were forced to move in with a relative. …
96. On May 16, 2022, the arbitrator issued an opinion awarding Negy “full reinstatement, with tenure, and with all compensation and benefits fully restored to that effect as of the termination date.”
97. Specifically, the arbitrator determined that UCF had not been justified in overriding the 6-month notice requirement of the CBA by deeming Negy a “safety risk.”
98. The arbitrator found that Negy had received “consistently outstanding annual evaluations” for the past two decades, until his tweets led to a “campaign by UCF” to gather potentially damaging information about his classroom behavior.
99. The arbitrator ruled that UCF’s assessment that Negy was a “safety risk,” when UCF had given him no opportunity to modify his behavior, did not justify denying him the required 6 months’ notice. The arbitrator was unpersuaded by UCF’s attempt to “buttress its claim” that Negy was a safety risk by pointing to his alleged 2014 failure to report unwanted conduct by a teaching assistant.
100. Because the arbitrator concluded that UCF had violated the CBA by denying Negy the 6 months’ notice, he did not reach the second question of whether Negy was actually responsible for the misconduct of which UCF accused him. He noted, however, that Negy’s case raised issues such as “effective use of protected free speech texts” and “announcement pre-investigation that Dr. Negy was a pariah in the view of the administration.” …
FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION
Violation of Plaintiff’s Right to Free Speech Under the First and Fourteenth Amendments (42 U.S.C § 1983) – Retaliation – …
104. Plaintiff engaged in constitutionally protected speech and has been subjected to severe retaliation as a result. Defendants’ actions would deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising their right to free speech. …
PRAYER FOR RELIEF
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff Charles Negy respectfully requests that the Court enter judgment against Defendants and provide Plaintiff with the following relief:
1. A declaration that Defendants’ actions violated Plaintiff’s right to free speech on matters of public concern;
2. A permanent injunction prohibiting Defendants from further retaliating against Plaintiff for his protected speech;
3. Monetary damages in an amount to be determined by the Court to compensate Plaintiff for the deprivation of fundamental rights;
4. Plaintiff’s reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs, and other costs and disbursements in this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1988 and 2000e-5(k); and
5. Such further and additional relief as the Court shall deem just, proper and authorized by law, and that the costs of this action be taxed against Defendants.
JURY DEMAND: PLAINTIFF DEMANDS A TRIAL BY JURY ON ALL COUNTS SO TRIABLE
Dated: March 16, 2023
/s/ David R. Osborne
David R. Osborne
GOLDSTEIN LAW PARTNERS LLC
/s/ Samantha K. Harris
pro hac vice admission to be sought ALLEN HARRIS PLLC