When a college cited a professor’s“noncollegial” behavior for deciding to let him go, the professor responded with allegations of anti-Asian bias. A new appellate opinion delved into qualified immunity protections and the “cat’s paw theory” of liability to sort out the dispute.
On Aug. 28, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Emporia State University officials didn’t discriminate or retaliate against a nontenured professor when they chose not to renew his position. The plaintiff, Rajesh Singh, alleged the officials used complaints that he was noncollegial as pretext for terminating his position, when a dean’s bias against his race and national origin drove the decision to let him go, as he argued.
The 10th Circuit upheld the district court’s summary judgment ruling, however, that Singh showed insufficient evidence that the university’s given reasons for not renewing him were pretextual. It also reversed the lower court on one issue, holding that qualified immunity shielded a provost who’d punished the plaintiff after he received the plaintiff’s binder filled with allegations against the university. The provost could have reasonably believed the binder’s contents weren’t protected speech on a matter of public concern, the panel determined.
The opinion in Singh v. Shonrock gives the latest example of how, at least in the 10th Circuit, public managers might avoid liability through qualified immunity and how a grievance process might inoculate employers from cat’s paw liability.