Former Ole Miss professor wins tenure lawsuit against university

Posted on Nov 1 2017 - 8:01am by Slade Rand

A United States District Court jury awarded a former university employee $218,000 in damages as a result of deprivation of his due process rights when applying for tenure in 2014, according to court documents.

The jury awarded Michael Wigginton Jr., a former professor in the legal studies department, $18,000 for past wages and benefits and two $100,000 compensations for past and future pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life. Senior US District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. presided over the five-day trial, which ended last Friday.

Keith Flicker of Flicker, Garelick & Associates LLP represented Wigginton and said the jury’s verdict is a confirmation of what Wigginton has claimed for nearly four years.

Michael Wigginton Jr.

I think the school needs to live up to its promises and its obligations to its faculty to provide a clear path for tenure and to implement the process, which they have written down all over the place,” Flicker said.

The university hired outside attorneys for their defense, whom Flicker said filed multiple motions to dismiss the case, all of which Judge Biggers denied. University general counsel Lee Tyner said the university practices a thorough tenure process.

“We have confidence in our thorough tenure process that seeks input from lots of faculty members and folks that have disciplines on and off campus,” Tyner said.

The university will have the opportunity to appeal the case.

Wigginton was hired by the university in August 2008 as a tenure-track assistant professor in the legal studies department. He also served as a graduate coordinator for the department and executive cohort program coordinator. Wigginton’s application for tenure was denied on May 1, 2014, and his employment was terminated on June 17, 2014.

Wigginton filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August 2014, claiming that while employed by the university, he was subject to “a pattern of discrimination” which led to the denial of his tenure and eventual firing. He sued five individuals at the university and the university itself.

The defendants included former chancellor Dan Jones; former provost Morris Stocks; former dean of the graduate school and biology professor John Z. Kiss; former dean of the School of Applied Sciences Velmer Burton and legal studies department chair Eric Lambert.

Jones and Burton are no longer with the university. Burton has been executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock since July. Stocks returned to the accounting faculty last year after serving as provost and executive vice chancellor.

Jones, Stocks and Burton were the only defendants to testify in court, and all five defendants were found to have violated Wigginton’s constitutional rights to due process, according to the jury’s verdict.

The initial lawsuit accused the defendants of “pervasive institutional discrimination based upon race, color, sex, and age,” Wigginton wrote in his employment discrimination charge filed Aug. 4, 2014.

Flicker said he dropped several of the plaintiff’s claims as the suit progressed, including those of race and gender discrimination. Two charges made it to the jury, one of age discrimination and one of denial of Wigginton’s due process while applying for tenure.

The jury rejected Wigginton’s claim that, if not for his age, the university would not have denied his application for tenure and promotion and would not have terminated his employment. The jury did, however, affirm Wigginton’s claim that the five defendants deprived him of his due process rights during consideration of his tenure and promotion application.

Flicker said that this was an employment discrimination case, and violation of the state and federal due process clauses falls under sec 1983 of US Code 42 on discrimination.

“Whatever the school’s general counsel says about ‘yeah it’s not a serious result,’ it couldn’t be more serious,” Flicker said.