(CN) – An official at Texas Tech University did not defame a student by repeating allegations that the student had pulled a gun on a classmate, a Texas appeals court ruled.
Robert Willis sued the university and Robert Maxwell, the director of the school’s physician assistant program, for Maxwell’s comments after expelling him from the program. Maxwell allegedly told students that Willis had been removed “because of documentation that he pulled a gun” on classmate Rima Paralkar.
But according to Willis, Paralkar falsely complained that he had threatened her with a gun after she had broken off their romantic relationship. He claimed he was expelled because Maxwell didn’t like him for challenging him academically.
The trial court sided with Willis on his defamation claim, as the hearings included the following testimony from a student: “Mr. Maxwell spoke with the class of 2008 to advise them that Mr. Willis had been escorted from campus because of documentation that he pulled a gun on Ms. Paralkar. He advised them that Mr. Willis was not to be on campus or to contact them. He asked that if they were contacted, they were to contact the police and advise the faculty.”
However, the Eastland-based 11th District Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, ruling that Maxwell handled the situation reasonably and was protected by official immunity.
“Maxwell was presented with conflicting evidence on what happened between Willis and Paralkar,” Justice Rick Strange wrote. “Willis denied pulling a gun, and Paralkar provided inconsistent statements to the police and withheld information from the university. But she told police Willis had threatened her with a gun and repeated that accusation to Maxwell. A reasonable person would have believed her.”
Strange added that Maxwell was doing his job by protecting his students’ safety.
“Willis did not challenge Maxwell’s description of his authority or his right to alert the students to a safety concern posed by a fellow student,” he wrote.