Mike Adams, an associate professor of sociology and criminology who was hired in 1993, said in his deposition that UNC-W denied him a promotion in 2006 because of his religious beliefs.
The court decided that Adams’ speech activity was a substantial or motivating factor for UNC-W’s decision to not promote him.
Tara Romanella, a university spokeswoman, said in a statement that UNC-W will appeal the decision.
Adams became a Christian in 2000 and started to be outspoken in his religious and political views.
Adams wrote a series of articles arguing for conservative values. He has also spoken at the Conservative Political Action Committee.
Adams was defended by attorney Travis Barham from the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit.
“We are grateful that the jury today reaffirmed the fundamental principle that universities are a marketplace of ideas,” Barham said.
“Not a place where professors are retaliated against for political or religious views different from those of university officials. As the jury decided, disagreeing with an accomplished professor’s religious or political views is no grounds for denying him a promotion.”
But Romanella disputed the court’s findings.
“UNC-W has been, and will continue to be, supportive of its faculty members’ rights under the First Amendment,” she said. “UNC-W strongly believes that its faculty properly applied their academic judgment in determining that Dr. Adams’ application did not merit promotion to full professor in 2006 and firmly denies that Dr. Adams’ political or religious viewpoints played any role whatsoever in the decision.”
Robert Shibley, senior vice president of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said FIRE and other free speech advocacy groups have been monitoring the case.
He said FIRE sent an amicus brief in 2011 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, arguing for Adams’ right for free speech on and off campus.
“Professors at public universities must have the right to discuss the vital issues of the day without fearing for their jobs,” Shibley said. “Now that a jury has established that professor Adams was in fact deprived of his First Amendment rights, we hope UNC-W will act quickly to put this sorry chapter of discrimination behind it.”
The 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals heard Adams’ case in 2011, and wrote that he does not lose his First Amendment rights as an employee of the university.
His column topics, the court wrote, were issues of public concern.
Adams is still employed by UNC-W.