We have a number of updates to share with you about legal cases addressing discrimination and AAUP policies in which we’ve filed amicus briefs or been otherwise involved.
In March the AAUP joined with Brady: United Against Gun Violence and its youth-led initiative, Team Enough, in submitting an amicus brief to the Michigan Supreme Court. The brief supports the defendant in the appeal of Joshua Wade v. University of Michigan, affirming a lower-court ruling that the university’s prohibition on firearms does not infringe on Second Amendment rights. It argues in favor of the right to impose gun-control measures on campuses to protect faculty members and students and explains how the presence of firearms could have a negative impact on academic freedom. Citing a 2015 statement opposing “campus-carry” laws that the AAUP issued jointly with the American Federation of Teachers, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, the brief notes that “students and faculty members will not feel comfortable discussing controversial subjects if they think there might be a gun in the room” and summarizes research that supports this claim.
The AAUP also submitted a brief in the Oregon Court of Appeals in March in a case that involves the distribution of antiunion FAQs by Oregon State University. The appeal arose from an Oregon Employment Relations Board decision—based on the filing of an unfair labor practices complaint by United Academics of Oregon State University—finding that the university had violated a state law requiring neutrality in union organizing drives by circulating the FAQs. According to the board, after soliciting faculty questions, OSU wrote or edited many of the questions in the FAQs, presented them as having been asked by members of the faculty, and failed to disclose substantive changes to some questions. Oregon State University and six other public universities submitted an amicus brief that argued that the FAQs were protected by shared governance. The AAUP amicus brief challenged that claim, explaining the importance of shared governance as a framework for faculty participation in decision-making and asserting that the unilaterally created FAQs neither constituted nor contributed to meaningful shared governance.
This spring also brought positive developments in two legal cases in which the AAUP previously filed amicus briefs.
The first case involves Margaret DeWeese-Boyd, a professor of social work who alleges that she was denied a promotion by Gordon College because of her outspoken criticism regarding LGBTQ issues at the Christian college. As reported in the winter issue of Academe, the AAUP authored and filed an amicus brief in support of DeWeese-Boyd, arguing that she is not a “minister” and that the college had inappropriately invoked the “ministerial exception” to First Amendment law in an attempt to avoid application of Massachusetts employment laws. In March, the Massachusetts Supreme Court found that DeWeese-Boyd is not a ministerial employee and returned the case to the trial court to determine whether the university had violated Massachusetts antidiscrimination laws.
More good news came in a ruling that allows Jennifer Freyd to proceed with a discrimination suit against the University of Oregon alleging she was underpaid due largely to retention raises given to comparable male faculty. After a lower court dismissed her suit, Freyd filed an appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the AAUP submitted an amicus brief in September 2019 supporting her case. The brief provided information about gender-based wage discrimination in academia and about faculty work, explaining that the pay differentials Freyd documented were not justified and arguing that her department’s retention-raise practice had a discriminatory impact that the university could have corrected. The appeals court found in March that the faculty jobs of women and men were “comparable” for legal purposes and that the university could have avoided the discriminatory impact of retention raises by revisiting the pay of comparable faculty when retention raises were given.
Finally, as we let you know in an email earlier this month, in a major victory for graduate employees at private universities, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced that it was withdrawing a rule proposed in late 2019 that would have barred graduate assistants from engaging in union organizing and collective bargaining under the protection of federal law. With the withdrawal of the proposed rule, the governing standard remains the one established in a 2016 NLRB decision that allowed graduate employees at Columbia University to unionize. The AAUP has long supported the bargaining rights of graduate employees and submitted an amicus brief in the Columbia University case, which was cited and relied upon by the board in its decision.
Amicus briefs in which the AAUP participates appear, along with summaries of the cases they support, on the AAUP website at https://www.aaup.org/our-work/legal-program/amicus-briefs. The summaries are updated after courts issue decisions in the cases.