Former Florida Atlantic University (FAU) faculty member James Tracy, who is widely considered a “Sandy Hook truther,” filed a wrongful termination lawsuit on Monday, months after losing his teaching job.
Tracy is known as one of several conspiracy theorists who believe that the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, during which Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adult staff members, is a hoax. Tracy, who until January was a tenured associate professor in the communication school at FAU, has blogged about theories related to the shooting on his website, Memory Hole.
Veronique and Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was killed in the Sandy Hook massacre, blamed the attention Tracy was receiving for his theories on his connection to FAU, and called for the university to do more than “reprimand” him, in an article published in South Florida’s Sun Sentinel newspaper in December. “When do the interests of the college and its students take precedence over the tenure of a professor who has clearly proven himself in violation of the university’s own policy?” they wrote.
Days after the article ran, FAU announced it had notified Tracy of its intent to terminate his contract. Tracy’s faculty union mandated such notice, the university said at the time. The termination went through on January 6.
Tracy’s lawsuit names as defendants the university’s board of trustees, several board members and university administrators, the unions Florida Education Association and United Faculty of Florida and two people affiliated with the latter union. The lawsuit alleges that the university violated Tracy’s right to due process, free speech and academic freedom.
“His academic career has been destroyed,” the complaint states.
Tracy taught at FAU for more than a decade, according to the complaint. It alleges that the defendants knew about Tracy’s website, and that he clearly distinguished the website from his role at the school.
“Professor Tracy’s academic freedom and constitutionally protected speech included reporting about the incomplete national media coverage of the Newtown incident and how it continues to be used by politicians, legislators, lobbyists...to promote and install irrational and unconstitutional reforms,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also mentions the Pozners’ Sun Sentinel article and similar ones, alleging that after their publication, university officials “began strategizing how they could use the public controversy surrounding Professor Tracy” to discipline and perhaps fire him.
Union representatives apparently assured Tracy that his blogging was protected as free speech, and allegedly told him not to include his website on a university “outside activities” disclosure, according to the complaint. FAU later demanded that he disclose the website. When he refused, the university cited his refusal as the reason for its intent to terminate his employment. His union “failed to file a grievance” following the notice, the lawsuit alleges, and the university finalized his firing.
Tracy claims that the “outside activities” policy was confusing, and that it was the subject of a faculty senate meeting in September 2015, during which other faculty members complained about it on-record.
The suit calls for the court to declare the “outside activities” policy unconstitutional, reinstate Tracy at FAU and grant him compensatory and punitive damages, as well as other relief.
“In my opinion, this is pretty much a frivolous lawsuit, at least aimed at us,” Marshall Ogletree, the interim executive director of the United Faculty of Florida, a union named in the lawsuit, tells Newsweek. He says the union planned to file a grievance on behalf of Tracy, but then “we withdrew our support for him because he wasn’t dealing with the case as we advised him to do.”
Ogletree adds, “I don’t feel like the union did anything incorrect. We did everything we could to represent him in a proper manner, and when you don’t take the advice of your council...we had no other option.”
A university spokesman declined to comment on pending litigation, and said the school had not yet been served in the case. A spokesman for the Florida Education Association directed questions to Ogletree.
The Palm Beach Post first reported the news of the lawsuit on Tuesday.
Last week, a judge in Connecticut denied a motion to dismiss another lawsuit, which the families of 10 victims involved in the Sandy Hook shooting filed against three gun companies. Meanwhile, gun control advocates have criticized Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for saying he did not think victims of gun-related crimes should be able to sue gun manufacturers.