The University of North Texas has agreed to pay $165,000 to a math professor who was fired for mocking the concept of microaggressions on a chalkboard in the faculty lounge.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal advocacy group that represented Professor Nathaniel Hiers in a lawsuit against UNT, announced the settlement in a press release Thursday. The payment covers the professor’s damages and attorneys’ fees, the group said.
“Public universities can’t fire a professor just because they disagree with the professor’s personal viewpoint,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said in a statement.
The public research university is located in the city of Denton north of Dallas and Fort Worth.
In a statement emailed to The Washington Times, the university said the settlement will let it get back to focusing on “students who have chosen to invest their resources in pursuing an excellent education as part of our UNT family.”
“The agreement allows the university to devote our attention and resources to our mission rather than to years of protracted court proceedings,” UNT said in the statement.
The statement also reaffirmed the school’s “commitment to our faculty members’ rights to free expression and to our students’ rights to an inclusive, nondiscriminatory educational environment.”
According to the lawsuit, the incident occurred in the fall of 2019, when Mr. Hiers discovered fliers in the math department’s faculty lounge warning against microaggressions.
The professor drew an arrow pointing to the fliers on the chalkboard and wrote: “Please don’t leave garbage lying around.”
A week later, the head of the math department canceled his contract to teach in the spring.
Mr. Hiers filed his lawsuit against the school in April 2020, arguing that UNT violated his First Amendment freedom of expression by firing him.
Earlier this year, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas rejected UNT’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In a March 11 ruling, District Judge Sean D. Jordan said the school could be liable for damages.
“Preserving the ‘freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think’ is both an inherent good, and an abiding goal of our democracy,” wrote Judge Jordan, who was appointed by President Trump.