Case: Phillips v. North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

22CV015616 | North Carolina state trial court

Filed Date: Dec. 16, 2022

Case Ongoing

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

This is a case about a professor alleging his free speech rights were violated when he was fired after hosting some controversial, optional lectures at the Governor's School of North Carolina, a summer program for high school students run by the state. On December 16, 2022, an English professor who taught at the North Carolina Governor’s School filed this lawsuit in the Wake County Superior Court in the state of North Carolina. The plaintiff sued North Carolina education officials pursuant to t…

This is a case about a professor alleging his free speech rights were violated when he was fired after hosting some controversial, optional lectures at the Governor's School of North Carolina, a summer program for high school students run by the state. On December 16, 2022, an English professor who taught at the North Carolina Governor’s School filed this lawsuit in the Wake County Superior Court in the state of North Carolina. The plaintiff sued North Carolina education officials pursuant to the North Carolina Constitution. Represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom and private counsel, the plaintiff sought job reinstatement, monetary damages, injunctive relief, and attorneys’ fees. He claimed that the school violated his free speech rights when it fired him after he delivered three optional seminars critiquing critical race theory and what he viewed as the increasing bias and lack of viewpoint diversity in higher education. He also alleged that, by firing him, the school had discriminated against him because he was a white Christian man. Finally, he alleged that the school had fired him for arbitrary and capricious reasons, which violated the clause of the North Carolina Constitution that guarantees people "the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor."

On February 16, 2023, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss. They argued the complaint should be dismissed for lack of personal and subject matter jurisdiction and because it failed to state a claim. The defendants contended that the plaintiff had not sufficiently alleged constitutional violations, that he lacked a property interest in continued employment at the school, and that the lawsuit was barred by sovereign immunity. As to the alleged constitutional violations, the defendants argued that the plaintiff's speech was not protected, that the plaintiff's interests were outweighed by the school's interests, and that the plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege causation. Further, the defendants contended that the plaintiff had not sufficiently alleged that the school fired him due to his race, sex, or religion.

On May 15, 2023, the court granted in part and denied in part the motion to dismiss. It denied the motion as to Count I (which alleged free speech violations), Count II (which alleged race discrimination), and Count IV (which alleged discrimination based on multiple characteristics). The court granted the motion as to Count III (which alleged religious discrimination) and Count V (which alleged violations of the Fruits of Their Labor Clause), dismissing these claims from the lawsuit.

The Clearinghouse has no further information about the case, but it appears to be ongoing as of April 4, 2024.

Summary Authors

Venesa Haska (4/4/2024)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

22CV015616

Verified Complaint

Dec. 16, 2022

Dec. 16, 2022

Complaint

22CV015616

Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

Feb. 16, 2023

Feb. 16, 2023

Pleading / Motion / Brief

22CV015616

Order

May 17, 2023

May 17, 2023

Order/Opinion

Docket

Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:37 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: North Carolina

Case Type(s):

Speech and Religious Freedom

Equal Employment

Key Dates

Filing Date: Dec. 16, 2022

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

An English professor at North Carolina Governor’s School, a residential summer program for the state’s gifted and talented rising high-school seniors.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

Alliance Defending Freedom

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, State

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

State Anti-Discrimination Law

Available Documents:

Complaint (any)

Outcome

Prevailing Party: None Yet / None

Nature of Relief:

None yet

Source of Relief:

None yet

Issues

General/Misc.:

Disciplinary procedures

Education

Discrimination Area:

Discharge / Constructive Discharge / Layoff

Discrimination Basis:

Race discrimination

Religion discrimination

Sex discrimination

Affected Race(s):

White

Affected Sex/Gender(s):

Male