News, On campus

Tech President Phil Oldham Dropped from Faculty Lawsuit

Tech President Phil Oldham poses for a picture outside on a sunny, summer day.
President Phil Oldham has been dismissed from the lawsuit in his official capacity and may also be dismissed as an individual.
Photo provided by Office of Communications and Marketing.

President Phil Oldham has been dismissed as a defendant – in his official capacity – from a lawsuit filed by university faculty members.

Andrew Smith, an English instructor, and Dr. Julia Gruber, an associate professor of German, filed suit last fall after allegedly suffering “adverse action intended to chill their speech … that is protected under the First Amendment” and were denied procedural due process.

Actions taken against Smith and Gruber came as a result of fliers, allegedly made by Smith, of Andrew Donadio, an assistant professor of nursing and Putnam County commissioner.

Sanctions identified in the opinion include not being allowed to participate in study abroad activities, including faculty-led field trips with students; not being eligible for non-instructional assignments; revocation of a grant awarded to Gruber; requiring meetings to discuss classroom behavior; undergoing observation in the classroom; and threat of termination.

Smith and Gruber also allege they were denied a $1,000 bonus due to the sanctions, which was decided by Oldham, and that they are also now ineligible for two years of salary increases.

Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, however, stated in his opinion that “a claim for the retroactive payment of a one-time $1,000 bonus that was not awarded for a prior year’s service is simply not a claim for prospective injunctive relief of which the money would be ancillary.”

“Rather, it is a request for relief that would serve to compensate the plaintiff for a past injury and is barred by the Eleventh Amendment,” the opinion said.

According to the judge’s opinion, Oldham may be subject to dismissal as well in his individual capacity because “an individual is only liable for his or her own misconduct.”

While Oldham has been dismissed from the suit, claims brought against Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Lori Bruce will remain.

Crenshaw said, “The ‘thrust’ of the plaintiffs’ real claim against Bruce is to right the alleged wrongs and those include non-monetary damages, according to the opinion. The court cannot dismiss the official capacity claim against her.”

Bruce is the one who imposed the sanctions that include non-monetary punishment, the opinion said. She allegedly did so in violation of Plaintiffs’ free speech right and without due process.

A chief U.S. District Court judge issued his opinion and order in the matter Wednesday after motions were filed last month requesting partial dismissal for all defendants involved.

A trial date in this matter has been tentatively set for Feb. 21, 2023.