FAN 94.1 (First Amendment News) Tenured LSU Prof. Sues — University Claims Her Profanity Constituted Sexual Harassment
The case is Buchanan v. Alexander (U.S. Dist. Ct., MD, LA). The action was brought yesterday in a federal district court in Louisiana. Here is how the complaint opens:
Plaintiff Teresa Buchanan, a tenured professor, was fired from Louisiana State University (“LSU”) in June 2015 on the asserted ground that her occasional use of profanity constituted “sexual harassment” under LSU policies. Despite the fact that Professor Buchanan had a distinguished record of scholarship after nineteen years at LSU and had recently been recommended for a promotion, and notwithstanding the fact that the language in question was integrated into her pedagogical approach and was not directed at – nor did it disparage – any student, LSU terminated her employment. It did so under LSU policies that define “sexual harassment” without regard for First Amendment protections governing free speech and academic freedom. LSU’s flawed policies mirror a “blueprint” for campus anti-harassment policies promulgated by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, which unlawfully equates all speech of a “sexual nature” with sexual harassment. Under this approach, speakers may be punished – up to and including expulsion or termination – if a listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably.
The complaint alleges that on December 20, 2013, Defendant notified Professor Buchanan that she would not be teaching in the spring semester due to complaints from students about “inappropriate comments” she allegedly made during instruction, and because a superintendent of schools for a parish where LSU placed student teachers had complained that Professor Buchanan had made “negative and inappropriate comments” about parish teachers and criticized the superintendent at a recent meeting. Andrew did not disclose the identities of the student complainants or the nature of their complaints.
In May of 2014 Plaintiff received a memorandum from one of the Defendants that in part stated: “Beyond your sexually oriented comments, your reported communication style with students, faculty, and outside administrators has been found to be inappropriate, as you often use profanity in your communication.”
→ LSU’s sexual harassment policy defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical behavior of a sexual nature.” It includes quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment harassment, which “has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s academic, work, team or organization performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”
→ Alleged Violation of the ADA: The May Memorandum also informed Plaintiff that the Office of Human Resource Management had determined that she had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by disclosing a student’s medical condition to the student’s entire class. The Office inexplicably made this determination despite the fact that the student had herself referred to her condition in class on several occasions.
→ Objectionable Language: The so-called profanity included her use of the word “pussy” in discussing with student teachers how parents might use the word and other profanity as part of their everyday language. Her objectionable language also included her joking about stereotypical lesbian clothing to demonstrate sexual stereotyping. Additionally, it was alleged that she sometimes used sexually explicit ‘jokes’ in her teaching methodologies.
Professor Buchanan was dismissed from LSU on June 19, 2015.
→ Causes of action alleged by Plaintiff are:
- An as-applied violation of her rights to free speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments
- An as-applied violation of her due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment
- A facial challenge of the school policies as violative of her First and Fourteenth Amendments rights
- A request for declaratory and injunctive relief.
→ Professor Buchanan’s own account of her case
→ LSU Response: Ernest G. Ballard 3rd, a spokesman for Louisiana State, told the Chronicle of Higher Education: “We take our responsibility to protect students from abusive behavior very seriously, and we will vigorously defend our students’ rights to a harassment-free educational environment.”
→ Related New Stories
- Peter Schmidt, “Fired LSU Professor’s Lawsuit Challenges Federal Title IX Guidance,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Jan. 21, 2016
- Charles Lussier, “LSU professor fired for using salty language in classroom claims she’s ‘witch hunt’ victim, plans suit,” The Advocate, June 27, 2015
- Ryan Buxon, “Fired LSU Professor Teresa Buchanan Says She Still Doesn’t Know What She Did Wrong,” Huffington Post, July 8, 2015 (video interview with Professor Buchanan)
- Colleen Flaherty, “Fired for Being Profane,” Inside Higher Ed, (AAUP alleges violations of academic freedom, due process in new report about tenured professor who was terminated by Louisiana State U for using inappropriate language) (see also here)