GREENVILLE, Tenn. (CN) – A tenured criminal justice professor claims in court that East Tennessee State University fired her for Tweets she made on her personal account that lashed her department for condoning “unethical/criminal behavior.”
Leonore M.J. Simon, formerly a professor in the ETSU Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology since 1999, claims the school violated her First Amendment rights by firing her for Tweeting. She sued 10 individuals, including her department chair – but not the university itself – in Federal Court.
Simon says she created her Twitter account in 2009 using the screen name “perrymasognirl.” (Sic.)
She says in her complaint: “Simon did not state in her tweets that she was an ETSU professor, and the viewpoint of her tweets made it obvious she did not speak on behalf of ETSU.”
Her Tweets criticized the school and her bosses severely.
The complaint acknowledged that the Tweets were “critical of the administration of the criminal justice department relating to subjects including gender discrimination, gender pay disparity, unethical and criminal behavior, graft, mismanagement, incompetence, theft and/or embezzlement of sick leave by male professors within the ‘good old boy’ circle with administration, waste of taxpayer dollars, collusion between ETSU and the local media, all of which Simon asserted was known by and permitted by the administration.”
Defendants include Criminal Justice Department Chairman John Whitehead and ETSU’s then-President Paul Stanton.
In her complaint, Simon quotes some of her own Tweets, including:
“Stanton spends tax money like it were his discretionary income.
“Seems like unethical/criminal behavior is rampant at etsu dept of criminal justice because whitehead condones it.
“I think whitehead and many other chairs and deans at etsu are ethically challenged and should be fired/prosecuted.”
Simon claims that in May 2011 she submitted a formal complaint to ETSU alleging gender bias by Whitehead. She claims Whitehead objected to her gender bias complaint, to her Tweets, and to her filing of an EEOC charge of gender discrimination.
She claims: “Whitehead complained in (an) e-mail that he had to spend two days responding to Simon’s complaint of gender discrimination, requested that something be done to stop the ‘slander on Twitter’, that Simon be reprimanded, censured and, ‘requested formal action.’ Defendants were pleased to oblige and the inquisition/termination was set in action.”
She claims her gender bias complaint was rejected by an investigator in a July 15, 2011 memorandum. In August, she says, she was fired, “presumably at the direction of defendants Stanton and/or Whitehead”.
Simon says she was charged with violating faculty policy, and the defendants cited her Twitter account as the source of her offense.
She claims her termination letter stated: “From the period of May 21, 2011 through July 23, 2011 you posted numerous comments on a Twitter count (sic) for public view …
“These comments were inappropriate and derogatory toward ETSU, your colleagues in the Criminal Justice Department, executive aide of the department and various other administrators and faculty of the University. Your comments have caused severe distress to your chairperson and supervisor, to the departmental executive aide, various other faculty and staff of ETSU and have resulted in complaints from students, faculty and staff.
“Your comments are also in violation of the Academic Freedom and Responsibility Policy set forth in Faculty Handbook Policy 2.1.2.”
Apparently unrepentant, Simon refers to a “kangaroo committee” and an “inquisition committee” throughout her complaint.
She claims the committee, which voted to fire her, unfairly used her “early tweets” as a basis to fire her.
She then quotes some of these early Tweets, including: “My boss, although married, prefers males to females — he bends over backwards to please the males (no pun intended)”
“if he retires, how will he ever meet men?”
She claims the “inquisition committee” also referred to these, apparently later, Tweets:
“When the provost takes a liking to a woman, he creates a new vice president of something to promote her.”
“The vice president of ETSU is like the hit man of the mafia, taking pleasure in killing careers.”
“I wonder if Stanton has not been more cognitively impaired then he let on.”
She claims the “inquisition committee” cited these T weets for “Charge two” against her:
“The big bad provost is trying to fire me under termination for adequate cause.”
“Imagine this: a meeting this am between four bullies, all male, and myself, a long woman-like a gang rape.”
“Also a chair, Whitehead, whose sexual overtures I have rejected in a hurry.”
“When a jilted lover/alcoholic lawyer is leading the VP and Pres by the nose and he is sadistic we have a serious problem.”
She says the committee cited this Tweet in “Charge four”:
“I was ‘gang-raped’ Wed. by a committee of 5 women deans and chairs who were already convinced of my guilt of tweeting.”
In response to Simon’s lawsuit, Chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents John Morgan said in a statement: “The Tennessee Board of Regents stands behind its support of the processes and actions taken at ETSU. The suit is in litigation, and TBR counsel is reviewing the complaint, so we would not have any additional information to provide.”
Simon seeks $900,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages, for conspiracy, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and constitutional violations.
She is represented by John C. Duffy of Knoxville.