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Jury Believed University of Iowa Law School Illegally Denied Promotion to Law Employee

A federal jury believed the law school at University of Iowa illegally denied a promotion to a part-time law employee, known to be a conservative Republican, because of her politics.

The former jurors in the part-time law employee’s case told The Des Moines Register that though they thought political discrimination happened, jurors felt conflicted about holding a former dean personally accountable for the employee’s injuries.

Employment discrimination is a type of statutory tort. The jurors wanted to hold the school itself accountable. In a discrimination situation, the managers of an organization can be personally liable for the discrimination they participate in or know about, but do nothing.

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According to the jury foreman, everyone in the jury room believed the part-time employee had been discriminated against. The attorneys for the part-time law employee, Teresa Wagner, filed a motion for a new trial in the case.

The jury’s belief that Wagner suffered discrimination is important as the case goes to a retrial. A mistrial was declared on the claim that Wagner’s equal protection rights were violated. The case focuses on Wagner’s allegations that she was passed over for a full-time teaching job by the university because of her advocacy and work with entities that are against abortion and same-sex marriage rights.

Court documents and testimony indicate that a less-qualified applicant for the full-time job was hired for the position in 2007. The lawsuit alleges the law school’s associate dean wrote an email expressing concern that the university’s faculty might be support Wagner’s application “because they so despise her politics,” according to The Des Moines Register.

In a trial held in October 2012 in Davenport, more than a dozen University of Iowa professors and staff testified that the part-time law employee did not to garner the vote of the faculty because she did not do well in a presentation. Wagner did not end up as the faculty’s high ranking choice for the full-time job, according to trial testimony.

Jurors interviewed by the Des Moines Register reported they didn’t accept the University of Iowa’s explanation for Wagner not getting the job. The jurors believed Wagner, who continues to work part-time in the law school’s Law Writing Resource Center, had been discriminated.

Four jurors told the Des Moines Register in interviews after the trial ended that they thought the school itself, not the former law school dean, should have been named as the responsible party in the part-time law employee’s lawsuit.

The jury questioned if the dean had the explicit authority to hire Wagner full-time without the vote of the faculty, according to the Des Moines Register. A not-guilty verdict was returned on the count against the university’s former dean for political discrimination.

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