Jury rejects conservative's bias suit against dean

Case was watched closely in higher education and by social conservatives

By Ryan J. Foley
Associated Press

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The former dean of the University of Iowa law school didn’t commit illegal political discrimination when she passed over a conservative lawyer for teaching jobs, a jury ruled Monday.

After a six-day trial, a federal jury in Davenport rejected Teresa Manning’s assertion that then-Dean Carolyn Jones rejected her for the faculty because of Manning’s political beliefs and associations.

The verdict is a victory for the university in a long-running case that has been closely watched in higher education and by social conservatives. It came after about 90 minutes of deliberations in the second trial in the case, after the first in 2012 ended in an unusual mistrial.

“We are pleased with the outcome and happy to put this case behind us,” university spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said.

Manning had been seeking lost wages and damages for what she called an illegal rejection that sidelined her career.

“I find the verdict incomprehensible given the evidence we presented. I don’t know what else to say,” she said, thanking her attorney, Stephen Fieweger, for pursuing the case for years.

Manning has a contract with a conservative publisher to write a book about her experience, which many Republicans have cited as an example of the bias they face in academia in general and the nation’s law schools in particular.

Manning contended that liberal professors on the faculty derailed her candidacy for jobs teaching legal writing and analysis because they couldn’t stand her anti-abortion activism and other views. A Republican, Manning had previously worked for the Family Research Council and the National Right to Life Committee.

An Iowa law graduate, Manning had moved back to Iowa from Washington to work as associate director of the law school’s writing center when she was one of three finalists for two job openings in 2007. She had previously taught writing at George Mason University law school. But after she gave a talk to faculty members as part of the hiring process, the faculty recommended that Jones hire another finalist who was a self-described liberal and not fill the second opening.

Jones went along with those recommendations even though an associate dean had warned her in an email that he worried professors were blocking Manning “because they so despise her politics (and especially her activism about it).”

Several professors disputed that, testifying that Manning essentially disqualified herself during the interview. They said that Manning responded to a question by saying that she wouldn’t teach analysis — a key part of the job — and would focus on writing. Manning argued that claim was bogus and fabricated to justify discrimination.

Manning claimed that the opposition to her appointment was driven by Professor Randall Bezanson, who helped draft the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973 while he was a clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun. At the time, the 50-member faculty included 46 registered Democrats. Since then, the faculty has become at least slightly more politically diverse.

Jurors in the 2012 trial also agreed that Jones didn’t discriminate against Manning, saying later they believed Manning faced political bias from some professors but not the dean. Because a judge mistakenly declared a mistrial and dismissed jurors before he accepted their verdict, an appeals court ordered a second trial in the case.

Manning continued working at the law school’s writing center during the lawsuit, but she contended she was unfairly reassigned to the main library last fall. Her attorney said she has accepted a job teaching writing to Virginia Tech medical students and is expected to move next month.

Her book, tentatively titled, “Academic Injustices: One woman’s fight against bias in higher education and the law,” is scheduled for release in January, Encounter Books president Roger Kimball said. He said her story was “worth telling” regardless of how the trial came out.