NEWARK, N.J. (CN) – A New Jersey community college that fired an adjunct professor after her appearance on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was hit Monday with free-speech claims.
Filed in the Essex County Superior Court, the 9-page complaint does not get into the details of the June 6, 2017, broadcast, but video of the episode shows Lisa Durden getting into a heated exchange with Carlson about whether the activist group Black Lives Matter could ban white people from meetings.
“You white people are angry because you couldn’t use your ‘white privilege’ card to get invited to the Black Lives Matter’s all-black Memorial Day celebration,” said Durden, who is black.
Durden had been teaching public speaking and media at Essex County College for six months at the time the episode aired. For her suit against the Newark school Durden tapped attorneys Leslie Farber of Montclair, N.J., and Fred Shahrooz Scampato of Westfield, N.J.
She says that at no time during her Fox News appearance did she “state or imply that she was employed by Essex County College or that she was speaking on behalf of Essex County College.”
Two days later, however, Durden says the school’s humanities department chair told her she needed to cancel her class and then “accompanied her into the classroom and required her to tell students without explanation that the class was cancelled.”
After reporting to Human Resources, Durden was “suspended under the false pretense that she had mentioned her affiliation with Essex County College during her appearance on ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight,’” the complaint states.
In protest of the suspension, Durden says she spoke at a June 20 meeting of the Essex County College Board of Trustees “about the right to free speech and academic freedom in general.” She was fired three days later on June 23.
Though the school has not responded to a request for comment on the lawsuit, Essex County College President Anthony Munroe was quoted last year in news reports as saying that the administration was “immediately inundated with feedback … expressing frustration, concern and even fear” over Durden’s comments.
Durden contends that her reputation as a media professional, including her numerous television and radio appearances, were all considered when Essex County College hired her. In addition to various workshops she has facilitated, Durden notes that she also sat on various speaking panels at the school over the course of many years, including one titled “Radical Women in Media.”
Back in January, the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, brought suit for any records that Essex County College has concerning Durden’s termination.