Churchill v. University of Colorado at Boulder
Colorado Supreme Court
285 P.3d 986 (2012)
Churchill (plaintiff) was a tenured professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder (defendant). In February of 2005, the Board of Regents (defendant) of the university held a special meeting in response to the public outcry over an article Churchill had written in which he likened the civilians killed during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack to the Nazi officer who served as the primary planner of the Holocaust. The Regents authorized the creation of an ad hoc panel to investigate Churchill. The panel found that Churchill’s article constituted free speech and was not cause for dismissal, but during its investigation, the panel received complaints that Churchill had engaged in academic misconduct while writing his scholarly publications. The university began a formal investigation into Churchill’s alleged academic misconduct. After an investigation by several committees and full hearings before both the Faculty Senate Committee and the Board of Regents, the Board of Regents voted to terminate Churchill’s tenured employment due to academic misconduct. During both hearings, Churchill was represented by counsel and was afforded an opportunity to present evidence and witnesses and cross-examine adverse witnesses. Churchill filed a lawsuit alleging that the investigation and termination were in retaliation for his exercise of free speech. Churchill’s termination claim was submitted to a jury, which found that Churchill’s protected speech was a motivating factor in his termination and awarded Churchill nominal damages in the amount of $1. After the jury’s verdict, the university filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that the Regents were immune from suit on Churchill’s termination claim because they had acted in a quasi-judicial capacity, which entitled them to absolute immunity. Churchill requested that he be reinstated as a tenured professor in light of the jury’s verdict. The trial court ruled for the university and vacated the jury’s verdict. Churchill appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Bender, C.J.)
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