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Edwards v. California University of Pennsylvania

August 10, 1998

DILAWAR M. EDWARDS, PH.D. APPELLANT
v.
CALIFORNIA UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA; JOHN PIERCE WATKINS, PH.D., PRESIDENT; NANCY Z. NELSON, ED.D., VICE PRESIDENT FOR ACADEMIC AFFAIRS; WILLIAM BENEDETTI, ED.D., DEAN IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES; DAVID CAMPBELL, CHAIRPERSON, EDUCATIONAL STUDIES DEPT.



Before: Stapleton and Alito, Circuit Judges, and O'kelley, District Judge*

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alito, Circuit Judge:

ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Civil No. 91-01668)

Argued: March 13, 1998

* Hon. William C. O'Kelley, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Georgia, sitting by designation.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant Dilawar M. Edwards, a tenured professor at the California University of Pennsylvania, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the University and its officers ("the University") violated several of his constitutional rights. Specifically, Edwards claimed that the University deprived him of his rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection by restricting his choice of classroom materials, criticizing his teaching performance, and suspending him with pay for a portion of one academic term. In addition, Edwards alleged that the University retaliated against him for filing this lawsuit.

Prior to trial, the district court dismissed Edwards's equal protection claim and granted summary judgment in favor of the University on Edwards's due process claim. The case then went to trial on Edwards's First Amendment and retaliation claims, and a jury returned a verdict for the University. On appeal, Edwards assigns as error: 1) the district court's First Amendment jury instruction; 2) the district court's grant of summary judgment on his due process claim; 3) the district court's dismissal of his equal protection claim; 4) the district court's ruling that the verdict was not against the great weight of the evidence; and 5) the district court's decision not to permit a third amended complaint. We affirm.

I.

During the time-period at issue in this case, Professor Edwards taught a course at the University entitled "Introduction to Educational Media" (IEM). Syllabi from the early 1980s indicate that the IEM course initially focused on how teachers can effectively use various classroom tools, such as projection equipment, chalkboards, photographs, and films. See App. I at 299-306. Later syllabi prepared by Edwards, however, included a new emphasis on issues of bias, censorship, religion, and humanism, and Edwards listed numerous publications concerning these issues as required or suggested reading. Id. at 307-37.

In May 1989, one of Edwards's students complained to University officials that Edwards had used the IEM class to advance religious ideas. On August 14, 1989, the University's Vice President for Academic Affairs, Nancy Nelson, wrote a letter to Edwards in which she outlined the student's concerns and indicated that a meeting on the issue would be held in the fall. Nelson met with Edwards and other school officials to discuss the complaint and, on November 28, 1989, Nelson wrote to Edwards and directed that he "cease and desist" from using "doctrinaire material[s]" of a religious nature. App. I at 366. Edwards appealed this decision to the President of the University, John Pierce Watkins, and the two exchanged letters through July 1990. Watkins expressed his approval of Nelson's actions and directed Edwards to avoid advancing religious beliefs through his lectures and handouts. Dr. Edwards continued to teach the IEM course during the 1991 and 1992 school years.

In 1992, Professor David Campbell was named chair of the Education Department at the University. Upon assuming this position, Campbell became concerned that Edwards had "interjected something that didn't belong in the [IEM] course[:] A distinct bias on religion and religious questions." App. II, Trial Tr. 2/13/97, at 38. After concluding that Edwards was teaching from a non- approved syllabus, Campbell brought the issue to the department faculty during the Spring 1993 term, and the faculty voted to reinstate an earlier version of the IEM syllabus. Relying on the earlier syllabus, Campbell revoked certain book orders that Edwards had made for the Fall 1993 semester and, when Edwards objected, Campbell told him that he could put the matter on the agenda for the September 1993 faculty meeting. Campbell testified that Edwards never asked that the matter be placed on the meeting's agenda.

In the weeks prior to the Fall 1993 term, Professor Edwards's schedule was rearranged, and he was assigned to teach an additional course -- "Educational Tests and Measurements" (ETM) -- that he had never taught. Edwards was dissatisfied with the change, and Campbell received complaints that Edwards failed to attend some of his ETM classes and walked out of others. At the September 1993 faculty meeting, Campbell and Edwards engaged in an exchange in which Campbell called Edwards an "embarrassment to the department" and made comments to the effect that Edwards might be better suited to a "fundamentalist college[ ]" than a "public university." App. I at 391, 400. A non-verbatim account of the meeting was distributed to all members of the Education Department.

In response to the student complaints about Edwards's ETM class, school administrators put together a packet of materials that they wished to discuss with Edwards. The administration scheduled a meeting for Monday, October 25, 1993, but apparently did not mail the packet to Edwards until Friday, October 22, 1993. Upon arriving at the meeting, Edwards stated that he had not received any materials in the mail and he asked for additional time to prepare. App. I at 408-10. At this point, Nancy Nelson relieved Edwards of his duties, with pay, until he was ready to discuss the University's concerns. Id. at 411. Edwards remained suspended with pay for the remainder of the semester but returned to the classroom for the Spring 1994 term to teach two ETM courses and one IEM course.

Edwards initially brought suit against the University in September 1991, alleging violations of his First Amendment free speech rights, his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, and his rights under the Establishment Clause. In October 1991, Edwards filed an amended complaint which included an equal protection claim. After his suspension in 1993, Edwards filed a second amended complaint which contained a free speech claim, a retaliation claim, a due process claim, and an equal protection claim. The district court granted summary judgment on Edwards's due process claim in January 1997, and the court denied Edwards's motion for reconsideration in February 1997. On February 11, 1997, the first day of trial, the district sua sponte dismissed Edwards's ...


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