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3/11/2019 4:06 PM

Velva L. Price
District Clerk
Travis County
D-1-GN-19-001294 D-1-GN-19-001294
Cause No. ________________ Ruben Tamez

CORINNE WEISGERBER § IN THE DISTRICT COURT


§
§
Plaintiff, § TRAVIS COUNTY, TEXAS
v. §
§ 419TH
ST. EDWARD’S UNIVERSITY, § ______ JUDICIAL DISTRICT
§
Defendant. §

PLAINTIFFS’ ORIGINAL PETITION, REQUEST FOR DISCLOSURE AND JURY


DEMAND

Plaintiff Corinne Weisgerber (“Professor Weisgerber”), by and through her attorneys, brings

this action for damages and other legal and equitable relief from Defendant St. Edward’s University

(“Defendant”). Specifically, Professor Weisgerber brings this action for breach of contract and

defamation against Defendant, and for any other cause(s) of action that can be inferred from the

facts set forth herein. In support thereof Professor Weisgerber respectfully shows the following:

I. INTRODUCTION

1. Professor Weisgerber was a Tenured Associate Professor at St. Edward’s until being

fired without adequate cause or due process in violation of her tenure employment contract.

2. In firing Professor Weisgerber, St. Edward’s failed to abide by the foundational

protections afforded to tenured professors, despite that these protections were embodied in the St.

Edward’s Faculty Manual and Professor Weisgerber’s employment contract. The University’s

unjustified firing of Professor Weisgerber also violated several independent provisions of its own

Faculty Manual.

3. This failure by St. Edward’s to abide by the ordinary and accepted meaning of

“tenured” status, its own Faculty Manual, and its own adoption of the American Association of

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University Professors’ 1940 “Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom” (“1940 Statement”)

constitute a breach of St. Edward’s contract with Professor Weisgerber.

4. Professor Weisgerber’s firing is a symptom of a crisis of Academic Freedom at St.

Edward’s.

5. Tenure is a cornerstone of Academic Freedom. Tenure allows professors to pursue

Truth, speak freely, and participate in faculty governance without fear of retribution.

6. However, according to a recent comprehensive, on-site investigation and report (the

“Report”) conducted by the American Association of University Professors (“AAUP”), an

organization that since 1915 has played a leading role in shaping the standards and procedures that

maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country's colleges and universities, “the

climate for academic freedom at St. Edward’s has been deteriorating for a number of years and now

appears to be at its lowest point.” This deterioration has led to a climate described in the Report as

“toxic,” “hostile,” and “characterized, above all else, by fear.” The Report describes a “‘palpable’

feeling of ‘menace’ on campus.”

7. The Report describes a “heavy-handed” and “top-down” model of faculty

governance dominated by the Administration and based on keeping faculty in fear.

8. The Report concluded that St. Edward’s has “an abysmal climate for the exercise of

academic freedom, particularly in the course of participation in institutional governance.”

9. While St. Edward’s has never adequately articulated its reasons for firing Professor

Weisgerber, the University’s termination decision appears to be based in part on her attempts to

exercise her rights and responsibilities as a tenured professor to “participat[e] in institutional

governance.”

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10. As a tenured professor, Professor Weisgerber was required to participate in

institutional governance. The Faculty Manual, which governed Professor Weisgerber’s employment

contract specifically states that “The granting of tenure not only represents a commitment by the

university to the faculty member, but also imparts to the faculty member the responsibility for

providing leadership and continuity; for maintaining quality teaching and student advising; for the

development of academic programs; and for participation in university governance” […] (section

2.7.2).When Professor Weisgerber expressed her opinions about the direction of the Communication

Department, a well-established privilege of tenure, and according to the Faculty Manual, a mandated

responsibility for all tenured faculty, her Dean and the Administration of the University retaliated

against her by firing her in violation of her tenure and academic freedom rights.

11. Rather than following the procedures set forth in the Faculty Manual for dismissing

a tenured professor, the University purported to invoke the Faculty Manual’s provisions for

dismissal for cause. However, no specific acts that would substantiate a termination for cause were

ever specified by the University. Rather, the University vaguely accused Professor Weisgerber of

“continued disrespect and disregard of the university mission and its goals”—one of the grounds for

dismissal for cause set forth in the Faculty Manual—without any specific indication of how she had

done so.

12. In fact, Professor Weisgerber’s record of evaluations at the University showed a

consistent pattern of collegiality and support for the University’s mission.

13. The University’s termination decision also appears to be motivated by severe

financial woes. The Faculty Manual which governed Professor Weisgerber’s employment contract

outlines the steps that are supposed to precede terminations and nonrenewals because of financial

exigency. In terminating Professor Weisgerber without declaring financial exigency, and following

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the procedure outlined in section 2.8.7.2 of the Faculty Manual, the University violated its own

policy.

14. The University’s termination of Professor Weisgerber was substantively and

procedurally vague, arbitrary, capricious, and in violation of Professor Weisgerber’s tenure rights,

the St. Edward’s Faculty Manual, and the 1940 Statement.

15. Specifically, St. Edward’s:

• Did not articulate “adequate cause” or “just cause” to terminate tenured faculty;

• Failed to state the charges against Professor Weisgerber in reasonable particularity


despite Professor Weisgerber’s repeated requests;

• Denied Professor Weisgerber the opportunity to adequately defend herself by


refusing to elaborate on the specific nature of the charges and evidence against her;

• Did not make an adequate record of the proceedings against Professor Weisgerber;

• Violated Faculty Manual procedures by never putting Professor Weisgerber on a pre-


dismissal performance improvement plan as required by section 2.5.6.2 of the
Faculty Manual;

• Failed to specify the conduct that allegedly demonstrated “continued disrespect and
disregard of the university mission and its goals”;

• Violated Faculty Manual procedures for amending performance evaluations;

• Conflated Professor Weisgerber’s case with that of her husband, in violation of both
of their due process rights;

• Used dismissal as a tool to restrain Professor Weisgerber’s exercise of Academic


Freedom;

• Used dismissal as a tool to address the University’s financial woes;

• Failed to follow financial exigency procedures stipulated in the Faculty Manual; and

• Denied Professor Weisgerber her rights to a discovery process and a faculty hearing
with cross examination.

16. Each of these failures by St. Edward’s constituted a breach of the University’s

contractual obligations to Professor Weisgerber as a tenured professor.

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17. In addition to these breaches of its contract with Professor Weisgerber, St. Edward’s

added insult to injury through multiple false and defamatory statements about Professor Weisgerber

made by members of the University Administration.

18. Accordingly, Professor Weisgerber brings this suit for breach of contract and

defamation.

II. DISCOVERY AND JURISDICTION

22. For purposes of TEX. R. CIV. P. 190.1, Plaintiff alleges that discovery should be

conducted under Discovery Level 2.

23. Pursuant to TEX. R. CIV. P 47(c), Plaintiff seeks monetary relief over $1,000,000 and

all other relief to which she may be entitled, including specific performance.

PARTIES

24. Plaintiff Corinne Weisgerber is a natural person and a resident of Austin, Texas.

25. Defendant St. Edward’s University is a private non-profit university corporation

organized under the laws of the State of Texas and has a principal place of business located at 3001

S. Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78704.

JURISDICTION AND VENUE

26. This Court has jurisdiction over the subject matter of this case in that the allegations

contained herein stem from Texas common and/or statutory law over which this Court has subject

matter jurisdiction. In addition, the amount in controversy exceeds the Court’s minimum

jurisdictional limit.

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27. This Court has personal jurisdiction over Defendant because it is a Texas-based non-

profit corporation formed under the laws of the State of Texas with its principal office in Texas and

it regularly conducts business in the State of Texas.

28. Venue is proper in this Court pursuant to TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE § 15.002, in

as much as a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred in this

District and Defendant’s principal office is in this District.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

a. Background of Professor Weisgerber’s Employment and Earning Tenure

29. Professor Weisgerber has worked for St. Edward’s since September 2006. Her

husband, Professor Shannan Butler also started working at St. Edward’s in September 2006.

30. She was promoted from assistant to associate professor of Communication in 2012

and granted tenure in 2013.

31. Throughout her time at St. Edward’s, Professor Weisgerber underwent a regular

annual performance review which evaluated her performance in three areas: teaching effectiveness,

service, and professional development (section 2.5.1 of the Faculty Manual).

32. Professor Weisgerber received consistent positive chair and dean performance

evaluations. She received several Presidential Excellence Grants throughout her career at St.

Edward’s—grants specifically awarded by the University to faculty who “add to the reputation of

St. Edward’s University in fulfillment of its long-term mission.”

33. Throughout the previous decade, Professor Weisgerber received only “strong” or

“excellent” performance evaluations in the categories of teaching effectiveness, service, and

professional development.

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34. On January 9, 2018, Professor Weisgerber and her husband Professor Butler were

handed almost identical termination letters alleging that they had “stopped participating as collegial

members of the Department.” Their letters stated that they were being terminated because they had

not fulfilled the expectation to conduct themselves “in a civil, collegial manner towards colleagues.”

35. The Faculty Manual requires that all faculty be evaluated in the area of service

including collegial relations on an annual basis. Section 2.5.1.2 states that an evaluation of collegial

relations "must be included as part of the evaluation.”

36. Professor Weisgerber was evaluated on collegial relations by her chair and/or dean

every year since the beginning of her employment in 2006.

37. Professor Weisgerber’s 2015-16 annual performance review signed by her dean and

her chair in August/September 2016, specifically highlights Professor Weisgerber’s collegiality and

support of the university mission. It reads: “You have not only met category A by attending

meetings, being collegial, […], but you have also served in numerous leadership positions in the

community and organized a large-scale community event which is directly tied to our university's

mission of seeking justice and peace.”

38. Professor Weisgerber’s 2016-17 annual performance review (her last review before

her abrupt termination), written by Associate Dean and Interim Communications Department Chair

Dr. Richard Bautch, likewise did not find any problems in the area of collegial relations.

39. Section 2.5. of the Faculty Manual states that “the evaluation of all faculty at St.

Edward's University is solidly grounded in the principles articulated in the mission statement.” Yet

despite never having received a negative annual performance review of her collegiality, the

University’s termination letter accuses her “continued disrespect and disregard of the university

mission and its goals.”

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40. Professor Weisgerber was well-recognized and esteemed within the

Communications Department and was among the first three Communications professors who were

granted tenure in the department’s history.

41. Throughout her employment at St. Edward’s, Professor Weisgerber was highly

involved in department and faculty governance.

42. Beginning on or about Spring 2012, Professor Weisgerber took a leading role in

attempting to organize a chapter of the American Association of University Professors on the St.

Edward’s campus. On information and belief, this activity was disfavored by certain members of

the St. Edward’s Administration.

43. On April 21, 2016, Professor Weisgerber’s husband Professor Butler contacted

Department Chair Dr. Teri Lynn Varner to ask if she was going to run for chair again. Dr. Varner

said she did not want to run and encouraged Professor Butler to run instead.

44. The next day, after Professor Butler had already announced his candidacy, Dr. Varner

announced she had experienced an “epiphany” and decided to run.

45. At that point, Dean Sharon Nell chose to change the standard chair nomination

procedures. When Professor Butler later questioned the change of policy he was admonished not to

ask questions.

46. Shortly after her husband’s April 2016 run for Interim Department Chair, Professor

Weisgerber was first targeted for unjust action by the St. Edward’s Administration.

a. The Initial Vague Accusations of Wrongdoing

47. Professor Weisgerber first learned of allegations against her in a meeting with Dean

Sharon Nell on September 23, 2016.

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48. Originally, only Professor Weisgerber’s husband Professor Butler was summoned to

this meeting with Dean Nell. Only after Professor Weisgerber asked Associate Dean Dr. Richard

Bautch for help on her husband’s behalf was she summoned to a separate September 23 meeting.

49. In that meeting, Dean Nell lodged vague and non-specific allegations of

unprofessional behavior aimed at Dr. Varner which Dean Nell had supposedly observed in May

2016, the month after Professor Butler’s run for Department Chair against Dr. Varner.

50. Professor Weisgerber was on sabbatical leave and not even on campus in May 2016.

She had no face-to-face interaction with Dr. Varner during that time and only exchanged a few task-

related emails with her. Nothing unprofessional was said in those emails.

51. After Dean Nell lodged the accusation of unprofessional behavior against her,

Professor Weisgerber asked for specific examples of any alleged unprofessional behavior. Dean

Sharon Nell and Associate Dean Richard Bautch both refused to provide any specific examples.

52. Professor Weisgerber was not put on a performance improvement plan in the

September 2016 meeting or at any point thereafter.

53. However, Dean Sharon Nell was put on an improvement plan in 2014 and given an

executive coach to work with her on the following areas: improve communication effectiveness,

develop a more collaborative approach, become more accessible, and build solid relationships to

help bridge common goals. All of these documented deficiencies played integral roles in the

dismissal of Professor Weisgerber and Professor Butler.

54. After the September 23, 2016 meeting, Professor Weisgerber reached out to Human

Resources and Sr. Donna Jurick, Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs,

to determine the precise nature of the allegations against her. She was never given an explanation

or specific examples of these allegations.

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55. Professor Weisgerber and her husband Professor Butler spent the next 15 months

leading up to their abrupt terminations seeking clarification on Dean Nell’s allegations.

56. Professor Weisgerber received a positive annual performance review from Associate

Dean and Interim Communications Department Chair Dr. Richard Bautch on August 1, 2017.

57. Four weeks later, Dean Nell secretly added a page to Dr. Bautch’s positive annual

performance review. Dean Nell wrote that she did so in order to document the meeting that had

taken place the previous year on September 23, 2016.

58. After discovering that Dean Nell had altered Dr. Bautch’s performance evaluation of

her, Professor Weisgerber turned to Dr. Bautch and Sr. Donna for help. Professors Weisgerber and

Butler also repeatedly met with the AVP of HR, Kim Van Savage and asked her to launch an

investigation into Dean Nell’s behavior.

59. In separate meetings with Professor Weisgerber, Dr. Bautch and Sr. Donna both

confirmed that they had not observed any new misconduct that would have occurred since the

September 23, 2016 meeting.

60. Professor Weisgerber repeatedly informed Dr. Bautch and Ms. Van Savage about

acts of retaliation that had occurred after the Septempber 23, 2016 meeting and about the toll Dean

Nell’s actions had taken on her mental and physical health. After Professor Weisgerber forwarded

an article on “Abusers and Enablers in Faculty Culture” to HR, Ms. Van Savage seemed concerned

enough to enquire whether Professor Weisgerber was considering committing suicide.

61. Shortly after Ms. Van Savage agreed to look into the issue but before she had the

opportunity to finish her informal investigation, Professor Weisgerber was abruptly terminated.

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62. The fact that Professor Weisgerber was terminated immediately after she asked HR

to open an investigation supports the conclusion expressed in the AAUP Report by another faculty

member that “If you go to HR it’s like a death sentence.”

a. Termination

63. Without prior warning, on January 9, 2018, at a meeting with Sr. Donna Jurick,

Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Kim Van Savage, Associate

Vice President for Human Resources, Professors Weisgerber and Butler were handed almost

identical letters announcing the University’s intention to terminate their employment.

64. To the extent that Professor Weisgerber was handed a nearly-identical copy of

Professor Butler’s termination letter and accused of doing the same things to the same people at the

same time as her husband, the letter appears to be based upon some theory of vicarious liability for

one another’s alleged conduct because Professor Butler is Professor Weisgerber's spouse.

65. This conflation of Professor Weisgerber with her husband and the termination letters’

tendency to lodge allegations at them in a seemingly interchangeable manner clearly demonstrates

the arbitrary and capricious nature of the termination decision.

66. The termination letter did not state the charges in reasonable particularity and even

after directly requesting them, Professor Weisgerber received no explanation or specific examples

of the allegations. Nor was she allowed to ask any questions concerning the charges or allegations

during the January 9, 2018 termination meeting or any time thereafter.

67. By failing to provide Professor Weisgerber with a summary description of the

evidence relied upon by the university in specifying the cause of her termination, the University

violated Section 2.8.4 of the Faculty Manual.

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68. In addition to repeating the vague allegations regarding supposed misconduct in May

2016, the January 9, 2018 termination letter made further vague allegations regarding supposed

misconduct occurring in March, April, November and during the December 8, 2017 meeting.

69. On information and belief, the unspecified allegations related to the December 8,

2017 meeting stem from false and malicious comments made about Professor Weisgerber by the

Associate Dean and Interim Communications Department Chair Dr. Richard Bautch.

70. Professor Weisgerber still does not know what she is alleged to have said or done

that lead to her termination. Professor Weisgerber was not even on campus when her alleged

misdeeds allegedly occurred in May 2016.

71. Professor Weisgerber likewise was not in attendance at the April 2017 meeting that

made up part of the allegations against her and which allegedly “was adjourned prematurely due to

your disruptive behavior.”

72. To the extent that the allegations in the January 9, 2018 letter accused Professor

Weisgerber of misconduct at a time that she was not on campus and accused Professor Weisgerber

of misconduct at a meeting she did not attend, the letter appears to be based on arbitrary and

capricious claims and on false and misleading information.

73. The letter states that “you have been counseled to correct this behavior.” Professor

Weisgerber was summoned to a single meeting in 2016 where she was charged with improper

conduct. Dean Nell and Dr. Bautch refused to give examples or evidence of the conduct during that

meeting. Professor Weisgerber did not have any other meeting about her behavior, and received no

written warning about her behavior.

74. The Department Chair is required to have minutes taken at each faculty meeting, to

get the minutes approved, and to upload them to a shared file management system. These minutes

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constitute the official record of what transpired at any given faculty meeting. On information and

belief no faculty meeting minutes reflect the alleged improper conduct.

75. Professor Weisgerber was not given an opportunity to examine any evidence against

her or challenge any evidence against her, through cross examination or otherwise. Indeed, the

identities of her accuser or accusers were never disclosed by the University.

76. The January 9, 2018 termination letter did not state the charges in reasonable

particularity and at no time has Professor Weisgerber received an explanation or specific examples

of the alleged misconduct, some of which occurred in her absence.

77. Far from denying that the charges levied at Professor Weisgerber during the

September 23, 2016 meeting with Dean Nell were vague and devoid of specific examples of the

alleged misconduct, the University’s Human Resources department in response to Professor

Weisgerber’s request to have the accusations specified or removed, later noted in an email to

Professor Weisgerber that “the fact that you have received no examples of the behaviors exhibited

that you have been asked to change, is sufficient reason for your appeal.”

78. At the January 9, 2018 termination meeting, Sr. Donna and Human Resources

representative Kim Van Savage stated that no one questioned the quality of Professor Weisgerber’s

teaching and research nor did they question the friendships she had in the Communication

Department.

a. The University’s Inadequate Hearing and Appeal Process

79. Professor Weisgerber was ostensibly afforded a chance to appeal the termination

decision to a faculty committee. But Professor Weisgerber was required to write her appeal without

knowing what evidence, particular incidents, or instruction would be provided to the committee.

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80. When asked about what information would be provided to the committee, President

George Martin replied, “The information provided to the Faculty Review Committee and/or me for

purpose of an appeal are (i) the termination letter and (ii) your written appeal, so you are in

possession of the information which will be considered.”

81. Despite numerous requests, Professor Weisgerber was not allowed to know the

identity of the faculty members appointed to this faculty review committee. Professor Weisgerber

was also not informed about the procedure or criteria used by the committee to reach a decision.

82. Although Professor Weisgerber was afforded the opportunity to submit a written

submission to the faculty review committee, she was not permitted to appear before that committee

in person.

83. Indeed, beyond the opportunity to submit a written defense to the faculty review

committee, Professor Weisgerber is not aware of any “hearing” that was conducted with regard to

her termination.

84. Instead, Professor Weisgerber was told by a University representative that “[t]he

faculty appeal process does not include discovery or a discovery-like process, and does not allow

for the faculty members to demand further justification of the decisions beyond the information

which has been provided.” This policy is not included in the Faculty Manual.

85. On information and belief, no “hearing” was ever held before the faculty review

committee.

86. No record or transcript of any hearing by the faculty review committee was ever

provided to Professor Weisgerber.

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87. Professor Weisgerber was never told the identity of the alleged witnesses against her,

nor was she afforded the opportunity to cross examine or otherwise confront any of these alleged

witnesses.

88. On March 22, 2018, Professor Weisgerber was advised that the faculty review

committee had voted to recommend her termination to the St. Edward’s President, George E. Martin.

89. On information and belief, the faculty review committee did not provide any reasons

or summary of the alleged evidence in its alleged recommendation to President Martin.

90. On March 29, 2018, President Martin terminated Professor Weisgerber. President

Martin did not provide any reason for this decision beyond reference to the earlier termination

recommendations.

91. Professor Weisgerber was then afforded an opportunity to appeal President Martin’s

termination decision to the Institutional Oversight and Academic Affairs Committee of the Board

of Trustees of St. Edward’s (the “Oversight Committee”). This appeal required her to challenge a

process and its outcome without having been given virtually any information about the process or

the specifics of the allegations against her.

92. On April 30, 2018, Professor Weisgerber submitted her appeal to the Oversight

Committee.

93. On May 15, 2018, the Oversight Committee denied Professor Weisgerber’s appeal

in a summary fashion, concluding without any further engagement with the underlying facts or the

procedural deficiencies raised by her appeal, that the decision to terminate her was “not arbitrary

and capricious.”

94. Professor Weisgerber’s termination from St. Edward’s became final and official after

the Oversight Committee’s denial of her appeal on May 15, 2018.

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95. Because of the nature of the academic job market, finding an equivalent tenured or

tenure-track position in Professor Weisgerber’s field is enormously difficult.

a. The Termination Breached Professor Weisgerber’s Tenure Employment Contract.

96. The process and substantive standards by which St. Edward’s terminated Professor

Weisgerber, a tenured professor, fell far short of the fundamental meaning of tenure and numerous

provisions of the St. Edward’s Faculty Manual as well as the 1940 Statement. As such, St. Edward’s

breached its tenure employment contract with Professor Weisgerber by terminating her.

a. Section 2.9.2 of the Faculty Manual and the 1940 Statement

97. Section 2.9.2 of the St. Edward’s Faculty Manual expressly incorporates the AAUP’s

1940 “Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom.”

98. According to the 1940 Statement, academic due process encompasses the following

components: (1) a statement of charges in reasonable particularity; (2) opportunity for a hearing

before a faculty hearing body; (3) the right of counsel if desired; (4) the right to present evidence

and to cross-examine; (5) a record of the hearing; and (6) opportunity to appeal to the governing

board.

99. Subsequent interpretations of the 1940 Statement generally accepted within the

academic field and understood to be incorporated into the concept of tenure provide that in cases of

dismissal for alleged cause the 1940 Statement requires:

• Adequate cause for dismissal will be related, directly and substantially, to the fitness
of faculty members in their professional capacities as teachers or researchers.
Dismissal will not be used to restrain faculty members in their exercise of academic
freedom or other rights of American citizens;

• A dismissal…will be preceded by a statement of charges, and the individual


concerned will have the right to be heard initially by the elected faculty hearing
committee;

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• The faculty member will be permitted to have an academic adviser and counsel of
the faculty member's choice;

• A verbatim record of the hearing or hearings will be taken, and a copy will be made
available to the faculty member without cost, at the faculty member's request;

• The burden of proof that adequate cause exists rests with the institution and will be
satisfied only by clear and convincing evidence in the record considered as a whole;

• The faculty member and the administration will have the right to confront and cross-
examine all witnesses.

100. Despite incorporating the 1940 Statement in its Faculty Manual and, accordingly,

Professor Weisgerber’s employment contract, the University’s conduct in terminating Professor

Weisgerber fell far short of these standards both substantively and procedurally.

101. St. Edward’s failed to provide a statement of the charges against Professor

Weisgerber in reasonable particularity.

102. St. Edward’s failed to provide Professor Weisgerber an opportunity to appear at and

present evidence to a hearing before a faculty body.

103. St. Edward’s failed to provide Professor Weisgerber the right to cross examine the

witnesses against her.

104. St. Edward’s failed to provide Professor Weisgerber with an adequate record of the

faculty review hearing, much less a verbatim transcript.

105. St. Edward’s used dismissal to restrain Professor Weisgerber’s academic freedom

and other of her rights as an American citizen.

106. St. Edward’s shifted the burden of proof to Professor Weisgerber, lodging the

vaguest of accusations and putting the burden on Professor Weisgerber to disprove them.

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107. As such, St. Edward’s breached Section 2.9.2 of the Faculty Manual, which was part

of the terms of Professor Weisgerber’s employment contract with Defendant, as well as the 1940

Statement, which is expressly incorporated into the Faculty Manual.

108. Section 2.9.2 begins with the statement “The fundamental purposes of the university

identified in the mission statement require full commitment to academic freedom.” Thus the mission

itself, which Professor Weisgerber is charged with violating, is fundamentally supportive of

academic freedom.

109. The second paragraph directly quotes the AAUP’s 1940 statement on academic

freedom, stating that “Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not

to further the interests of the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good

depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” It is clear from this statement that

even if Professor Weisgerber had wished to “launch a campaign against university decisions,” that

it was her right (and responsibility) to do so. According to this paragraph, utilizing her academic

freedom in support of her students, colleagues, and department, trumps even the University itself.

110. According to paragraph 3, academic freedom “carries with it duties correlative with

rights (1940 "Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom" by American Association of

University Professors and American Association of Colleges).” If these “duties” and “rights” were

not intended to fall in line with the 1940’s AAUP statement, then the statement should not have

been included in the first place.

a. Sections 2.8.6 and 2.5.6.2 of the Faculty Manual

111. Section 2.8.6 of the Faculty Manual provides that if a negative periodic review is

given, tenured faculty “may be terminated in accord with the procedures set forth in Section 2.5.6.2.”

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112. The procedures in Section 2.5.6.2 require that a tenured faculty member be given a

performance improvement plan and two years to correct any deficiencies before termination is

considered.

113. If the school committee gives a negative review, it is required to hold a conference

with the faculty member and discuss the committee’s findings and assist the faculty member in

formulating an improvement plan to correct the deficiencies noted.

114. Professor Weisgerber was never given a negative periodic review.

115. Professor Weisgerber was never given a performance improvement plan.

116. Professor Weisgerber was terminated less than two years after the first ever

complaint about her alleged conduct arose. Her termination could therefore not have been based on

a “continuing string of unprofessional and disruptive behavior dating back a number of years” as

her termination letter alleges.

117. Professor Weisgerber was never afforded a conference or other opportunity to

discuss any committee’s findings and formulate an improvement plan to correct any alleged

deficiencies.

118. Defendant thus breached Sections 2.8.6 and 2.5.6.2 of the Faculty Manual.

b. Section 2.8.4 of the Faculty Manual

119. In the January 9, 2018 termination letters, St. Edward’s represented that Professor

Weisgerber was “terminated for just cause pursuant to Section 2.8.4 of the Faculty Manual.”

120. Section 2.8.4 of the Faculty Manual sets forth the species of “cause” sufficient to

justify termination for “just cause.”

121. The list of offenses listed in Section 2.8.4 are quite severe, including: “professional

dishonesty; professional incompetence or continued neglect of academic duties, regulations, or

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responsibilities; failure to fulfill contractual obligations as set forth in this Faculty Manual;

misappropriation or misapplication of funds; conviction of a felony; causing notorious and public

scandal; or continued disrespect or disregard for the mission and goals of the university.”

122. Of these offenses, the termination letters list only one as the cause for Professor

Weisgerber’s termination: “continued disrespect and disregard for the mission and goals of the

university.”

123. This allegation of “continued disrespect and disregard” is unsupported by any

documented incidents of such alleged disrespect and disregard.

124. The allegation of “continued disrespect and disregard” is unequivocally contradicted

by Professor Weisgerber’s uniformly positive performance reviews and by her numerous

Presidential Excellence Grant awards—grants specifically awarded by St. Edward’s to faculty who

“add to the reputation of St. Edward’s University in fulfillment of its long-term mission.”

125. Furthermore, Professor Weisgerber’s 2015-16 performance review written by her

chair—3 months after the alleged misconduct against that same chair took place—specifically

highlights her support of the university mission and her collegiality.

126. By failing to abide by the standards set forth in Section 2.8.4 and by ignoring the

provisions of Sections 2.8.6 and 2.5.6.2, St. Edward’s breached its commitments under the Faculty

Manual.

c. Section 2.5.4.5 of the Faculty Manual

127. Section 2.5.4.5 of the Faculty Manual requires the Dean’s evaluations of a faculty

member to “be forwarded to the faculty member.”

128. On August 29, 2017, Dean Sharon Nell added a page to Professor Weisgerber’s

2016-17 positive annual chair performance review and uploaded it to the University’s computer

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system without informing Professor Weisgerber of the changes. The page Dean Nell added consisted

of an abridged and slightly altered account of the September 23, 2016 meeting.

129. Professor Weisgerber was not notified that Dean Nell had changed her evaluation in

this fashion, nor was the altered evaluation forwarded to Professor Weisgerber.

130. St. Edward’s thus breached Section 2.5.4.5 of its Faculty Manual.

j) Contradictions Regarding the Alleged Cause of Termination.

131. Sr. Donna Jurick confirmed on two occasions that no one questioned Professor

Weisgerber and Butler’s teaching and research abilities and record; that their colleagues liked them

as friends; that they are highly talented and highly skilled in their field; that they are considered

experts in their field and that they are employable.

132. Similarly, President George Martin in prepared remarks to the Faculty Collegium on

May 4, 2018 and in further email with the faculty on August 1, argued that Professor Weisgerber

and Butler’s terminations were not based on “the content of their speech on matters having to do

with the university or its policies” and that “these two cases do not involve issues of academic

freedom at the university.”

133. Contrary to those claims, the termination letter specifically alleges that Professor

Weisgerber engaged in “a campaign of disruption and disrespect for university decisions.” The

termination letter also lists several concerns about university policies expressed verbally by

Professors Weisgerber, particularly policies Dean Sharon Nell was imposing exclusively on the

Communication Department. These concerns clearly invoke matters of academic freedom.

d. The University’s Defamatory Statements About Professor Weisgerber

134. At a May 4, 2018 Faculty Collegium, President Martin made a number of false and

defamatory statements to the St. Edward’s faculty about Professor Weisgerber.

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135. President Martin stated that Professor Weisgerber was terminated for “a documented

pattern of bullying behavior and intimidation.”

136. Not only was there no pattern of bullying behavior and intimidation, but no such

pattern of alleged behavior had been “documented.”

137. President Martin further stated that Professor Weisgerber had been “dismissed after

having been counseled on [her] behavior (as [she] acknowledges).”

138. Professor Weisgerber was not counseled on her behavior.

139. To the contrary, as described above, St. Edward’s never gave Professor Weisgerber

examples of her allegedly improper behavior, and failed to abide by the counseling procedures set

forth in the Faculty Manual.

140. Professor Weisgerber never acknowledged having been counseled on her behavior.

141. These false statements were made by Dr. Martin in front of all of Professor

Weisgerber’s erstwhile St. Edward’s colleagues. On May 22, 2018, the minutes containing the

President’s defamatory statements were emailed to all contracted faculty members at St. Edward’s

University.

142. In an August 1, 2018 email to all faculty and a subsequent August 2nd Facebook

Workplace post visible to the entire St. Edward’s community, Dr. Martin repeated these false and

defamatory statements, claiming “these two cases do not involve issues of academic freedom at the

university. Rather, the cases of Professor Butler and Professor Weisgerber are based upon

interpersonal behavioral issues with fellow faculty and staff and a failure to modify behavior despite

counseling from two deans and other colleagues.”

143. Professor Weisgerber was never counseled by Dean Nell, let alone by two deans.

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144. While President Martin seems to have dropped the bullying charges and no longer

claims that these charges have been documented, Professor Weisgerber never engaged in a

consistent pattern of intimidating behavior.

145. In his October 25, 2018 email and Facebook post, Dr. Martin further alleges that

“Their pattern of intimidation and personal attacks is evident in the [AAUP] report, falsely

disparaging well-respected faculty members such as Dr. Richard Bautch and members of the

Communication Department.” Nothing in the AAUP Report disparages Dr. Bautch as President

Martin alleges.

146. In a coordinated response to the AAUP’s Report, Senate President Lorelei Ortiz sent

a letter to all faculty further defaming Professor Weisgerber.

CAUSES OF ACTION

BREACH OF CONTRACT

147. Plaintiff re-alleges and incorporates by reference all allegations contained in the

paragraphs above as if fully stated herein.

148. Defendant materially breached its obligations to Plaintiff under its contract with her,

its Faculty Manual, and the 1940 Statement.

149. Plaintiff has been damaged by Defendant’s failure to abide by its obligations.

150. As a result of Defendant’s failure to abide by its obligations, Plaintiff has been forced

to retain the undersigned attorneys to prosecute this action.

151. Plaintiff has served written demand pursuant to TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE §

38.001 upon Defendant either prior to or concurrently with the filing of this Complaint, so that upon

trial of this case more than thirty days after the delivery of such letter, Plaintiff will be entitled to

recover their reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees.

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DEFAMATION

152. Plaintiff incorporates by reference the allegations contained in the paragraphs above

as if fully stated herein.

153. Defendant slandered Plaintiff by willfully and knowingly publishing false statements

that were believed by third parties and had a negative impact on Plaintiff’s career and life.

154. The defamatory and disparaging statements that Defendant, its officers, agents,

and/or representatives made were not protected by any privilege.

155. Plaintiff’s reputation has sustained actual damages by the defamatory and

disparaging statements made by Defendant.

156. Plaintiff has suffered general damages by reason of injury to character and reputation,

emotional pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life.

157. Plaintiff has suffered special damages in the form loss of earning capacity, loss of

past and future income, loss of employment, loss of tenure, loss of six years of work toward

promotion, and loss of employment benefits, as well as other pecuniary damages.

158. Plaintiff is further entitled to recover exemplary damages, prejudgment and

postjudgment interest, and court costs.

JURY DEMAND

159. Plaintiff demands a trial by jury.

REQUEST FOR DISCLOSURE

160. Under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 195, Plaintiff requests that Defendant

discloses, within 50 days of service of this request, the information or material described in Rule

194.2.

IX. PRAYER FOR RELIEF

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WHEREFORE, Plaintiff respectfully requests that Defendant be cited to appear and

answer, and that final judgment be granted against Defendant awarding Plaintiff the following:

• Actual damages in an amount to be proven at trial;

• Pre-judgment interest at the maximum rate permitted by law;

• Costs and disbursements incurred in connection with this action, including reasonable attorneys’
fees, expert witness fees, and other costs;

• Attorneys’ fees pursuant to TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE § 38.001;

• Compensatory, exemplary, and punitive damages;

• Post-judgment interest, as provided by law; and

• Such other and further relief to which Plaintiff may be entitled.

DATED March 11, 2019 Respectfully submitted,

_/s/ Holt M. Lackey____________________


Holt M. Lackey
Texas State Bar No. 24047763
hlackey@equalrights.law
Ellwanger Law, LLLP
8310-1 N. Capital of Texas Hwy, Ste. 190
Austin, Texas 78731
(737) 808-2238 (Phone and Fax)
ATTORNEY FOR PLAINTIFF
CORINNE WEISGERBER

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