The former Collin College professor agrees with the school
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A Texas professor who said she was fired from Collin College in North Texas after publicly criticizing the school’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has regained her job for two more years under a legal settlement with the school.
Education professor Suzanne Jones filed a lawsuit in September 2021 accusing the school of violating her First Amendment right to free speech and claiming they fired her for her critical comments and her work to start a local campus chapter of the Texas Faculty Association, a higher statewide level. the education faculty union that lacks bargaining rights.
In a settlement announced Thursday, the college agreed to pay Jones $230,000 as part of a two-year contract that begins in January 2023, an amount far higher than her previous annual salary of about $66,000. But she is limited to teaching online only through the college’s iCollin program, and she must resign after the contract ends in 2025. In addition, the college agreed to pay Jones $145,000 in legal fees. Neither party admitted liability in the settlement.
“The most important thing is that professors feel they are free to speak their minds on matters of public interest without having an administrator punish them for a point of view with which they disagree,” said Greg Greubel, the attorney who represented Jones on behalf of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a legal group that protects free speech on college campuses. “All levels of public employees, from Collin College to any prestigious university, all have First Amendment rights and all deserve to be respected.”
Greubel said if Jones decides to leave before the end of her contract, she will keep the full $230,000 in the contract. But her goal was to return as a college teacher.
Jones had worked at Collin for two decades before her contract was not renewed. The lawsuit said the college gave three reasons why it was letting him go. This included her signing her name and college affiliation to a petition calling for the city of Dallas to remove Confederate monuments. They also raised the issue of her opposition to the college’s reopening plan during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and that she had listed herself as a Collin College professor on the Texas Faculty Association website.
Jones had filed suit against Collin College, President Neil Matkin and Toni Jenkins, a now-retired vice president of campus operations at Collin College.
After Jones filed suit claiming those actions were protected speech, lawyers for Collin College had asked the judge presiding over the case to dismiss the case, arguing they had “qualified immunity,” which protects government officials from lawsuits except if they clearly violated an individual or group’s constitutional rights.
But the judge denied that request in August, calling the arguments “dead on arrival,” meaning officials could be held personally and financially liable if found to have violated Jones’ First Amendment rights.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Collin College confirmed that Jones would return to work by February 2025.
“Collin College recognizes that Dr. Jones is an excellent teacher and during her time at the college demonstrated good performance through high evaluations and was respected by students and many of her colleagues,” said Marisela Cadena-Smith, a spokeswoman. “Dr. Jones is excited to return to the classroom and is grateful to the administration for the opportunity to teach the brightest minds at the college.”
Jones’ attorney directed questions about why Jones could only teach two more years at the school at Collin College, which declined to elaborate on the details of the settlement.
In a statement, Texas Faculty Association President Pat Heintzelman celebrated the decision.
“We hope her reinstatement serves as a reminder that college professors have the same rights to free speech and association as other Americans,” Heintzelman said.
Jones is the second professor represented by the free speech legal group FIRE to settle with the college and one of four professors to sue the college in recent years.
Former history teacher Lora Burnett sued the school last year, claiming she was fired for public statements she made about former US Vice President Mike Pence. According to Burnett, the college decided not to renew her contract due to “insubordination, publicizing private personnel matters that harm the operation of the college, and personal criticism of co-workers, supervisors and/or those who simply disagree with you.” Burnett said the college did not provide specific examples of how she had violated college personnel policies.
She settled with the school, accepting an offer of $70,000 plus attorney’s fees, though the school denied liability.
In March, former history professor Michael Phillips sued the school, alleging the college did not renew his contract because, similar to Jones’ cases, he spoke publicly about politically controversial issues such as the school’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the abolition of the Confederacy . statues in Dallas. FIRE represented Burnett and is currently representing Phillips in his case.
Last summer, Swee Lian “Linda” Wee, a former director of continuing education, filed a lawsuit alleging that multiple employees discriminated against her based on her race and gender, created a hostile work environment and retaliated against her. The case is pending.
Disclosure: Collin College has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a full list of them here.