August 23, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court: CU Regents’ Termination of Churchill’s Employment Was a Quasi-Judicial Proceeding; Reinstatement Would Harm Academic Integrity

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Churchill v. University of Colorado at Boulder on September 10, 2012.

Unlawful Termination Violating Free Speech Rights—42 USC § 1983—Absolute and Qualified Immunity—Quasi-Judicial Proceedings—Equitable Relief.

The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals and the trial court, both of which held that Professor Ward Churchill was not entitled to any of the remedies he sought. Churchill brought a claim under 42 USC § 1983, claiming that the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) Board of Regents (Regents) opened an investigation into his academic integrity in retaliation for the publication of a controversial essay, and that the investigation and resulting termination of his employment violated his free speech rights.

The proceedings against Churchill took more than two years and included several opportunities for Churchill to present witnesses, cross-examine adverse witnesses, and argue his positions. The Court held that the Regents’ termination of Churchill’s employment was a quasi-judicial proceeding, and that the Regents are entitled to absolute immunity.

The Court also affirmed the trial court’s ruling denying Churchill request to be reinstated and to receive front pay. The trial court accepted as fact that the Regents’ investigation found that Churchill had plagiarized his academic writings, fabricated evidence, and violated the school’s academic standards. The trial court ruled that reinstating Churchill would not be appropriate because the relationship between Churchill and CU was irreparably damaged. Reinstating Churchill, the trial court ruled, would harm CU’s ability to enforce its standards of academic integrity and could impair CU’s ability to attract good students and faculty. The trial court’s rulings and findings did not constitute an abuse of its discretion and the rulings were affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.

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