A law school professor is suing over what he calls an improper punishment over comments he made comparing African-American and Jewish students
Abdon M. Pallasch:
John Marshall Law School professor John Gorby has filed a lawsuit against his employer, saying he was improperly punished for what he believes were innocuous comments to a student after class.
The student, who is Jewish, was doing well in class and Gorby pondered whether his religious training -- which from a young age encouraged critical analysis of written Scripture -- explained why Jews pass the bar at higher rates than African Americans.
Gorby opined that blacks were brought up in religions such as Baptist churches that "emphasize an emotional and spiritual religious experience rather than discussion and debate about the meaning of scriptural language."
Gorby is neither Jewish nor African-American.
The student shared some of Gorby's comments with classmates, resulting in an elevator confrontation in which an African-American student asked Gorby if it was true that he said blacks don't do well in his class.
She filed a complaint with an assistant dean. The Black Law Student Association demanded Gorby be suspended for 30 days without pay. Gorby addressed the student group trying to straighten things out.
The arguments have been going for five years. That first conversation took place in Gorby's office in 2002. The law school has gone through three deans since then.
The first one took no action on the complaints against Gorby and agreed to give him a 5 percent raise, the lawsuit states.
The second dean, Patricia Mell, killed the raise and put a letter of reprimand in Gorby's file which said, "Academic freedom does not excuse poor judgment. It does not excuse 'pondering' about racial or religious stereotypes to students who legitimately may fear that their law professor may see them through that prism and treat them accordingly in class."
Gorby appealed and the school's appellate board ruled for him, removing the reprimand from his file.
But he never got his raise. And he spent $25,000 on attorney's fees. He thinks the whole episode represents a stifling of the academic freedom that should allow him and other professors to have provocative discussions with students about subjects such as how to boost bar-passage rates that -- according to his lawsuit -- have ranged as low as 12 percent some years for African Americans at John Marshall compared with about 90 percent for Jews.
Gorby asks for about $1 million.
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