Former professor loses free speech lawsuit against Florida Atlantic University

Communications professor James Tracy has advanced the conspiracy theory that the Sandy Hook shooting was a staged plot to justify more gun control. When he was fired from his tenured position at Florida Atlantic University in 2015, Tracy claimed his private blogging was the reason. The university claimed there were other reasons involving Tracy’s failure to follow instructions from his boss. Tracy filed a lawsuit claiming his free speech rights had been violated and seeking to get his job back. Monday a jury sided with the university. From the Sun-Sentinel:

Jurors in the federal free speech lawsuit filed by James Tracy took just three hours to reject his claim that the university terminated him for his conspiracy theory blog…

The only question the jury had to answer: Was Tracy’s blogging a “motivating factor” in FAU’s decision to fire him? To win, Tracy would have had to prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence — meaning it was more likely true than not true.

The eight jurors responded with a unanimous “no.”

“We just tried to stay away from the emotion of the case and we focused on the evidence, not hearsay or opinions,” the jury foreman told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Last week an FAU employee testified that Tracy was fired for insubordination, not for his obnoxious opinions:

“We told him he could continue to say it … to just try to distance himself [from FAU in his writings] to protect the university,” [Even] Alperin testified.

When FAU officials finally decided, three years later in late 2015, that Tracy should be terminated, Alperin said it was for “insubordination.”

She said he repeatedly failed or refused to file forms that required all academics to disclose outside work or activity, paid or unpaid, that might create a conflict of interest for him or the university. And she said there had been at least two years worth of problems before Tracy was eventually fired.

The Palm Beach Post reports that Tracy’s attorney lashed out at the media after the jury reached its decision:

Minutes after a federal jury rejected claims that Florida Atlantic University fired communications professor James Tracy because he publicly declared the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School a hoax, his attorney lashed out at the media, calling reporters “presstitutes.”

“Shame on you fake news,” attorney Louis Leo IV told news photographers and reporters who followed Tracy and him from the federal courthouse. Then, he hurled the invective: “Presstitutes.”

Do I really believe James Tracy was fired for not doing some paperwork? Yes and no. By all accounts, Tracy’s conspiracy blogging was a big embarrassment for the university and there was pressure from students and people outside the school, including parents of a child killed at Sandy Hook, to get rid of him. But no one ever told him he had to stop blogging. The University knew it couldn’t fire him for exercising his right to free speech, even when he was telling Sandy Hook parents that no children died at the school and that they were profiting off a lie.

But here’s the thing. If you’re determined to let your freak flag fly even though you know it’s causing problems for your employer, you better be very careful that you don’t make any other mistakes that could constitute grounds for termination. It appears Tracy failed to do that when he didn’t turn in paperwork showing income from his blog and a book. He gave the school a legal excuse to fire him and the school took it.

Tracy had been suing to get his job back and for back pay, which he won’t be getting now. He will, however, be able to keep blogging on his favorite topic. His attorney said he plans to appeal the outcome, so this may not be over yet.