Law Professors

Law prof sues over N-word suspension and says being white led to different treatment

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A professor at the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, who was suspended over his use of the N-word, alleges in a lawsuit that he was treated differently because he was white.

Law professor Paul J. Zwier II contends that he was subject to disparate treatment because of his race, and he was defamed in emails that failed to provide context about his use of the word.

When Zwier complained about discrimination, the school retaliated by moving, unsuccessfully, to fire him, his Aug. 6 lawsuit alleges.

Zwier “admittedly would have been treated differently if his race was Black under the same circumstances,” the suit says.

Black faculty at Emory have used the N-word in teaching and publishing “without reproach, discipline or dismissal,” the suit says. “Before and during Professor Zwier’s suspension, multiple Emory faculty and students stated that it was Professor Zwier’s white race that made it inappropriate for him to use any variation of the ‘N-word.’ ”

Zwier was suspended in November 2018 and reinstated this past January. The suspension followed initial decisions to oust Zwier from his first-year torts class and to bar him from teaching any mandatory first-year courses.

Zwier twice used the N-word, once in a classroom hypothetical and the second time in a discussion with a Black student about Zwier’s support for racial equality.

Zwier says his first use of the word was part of a “teaching moment” in his first-year torts class in August 2018. Zwier was discussing a case in which a hotel employee refused to serve a Black person. Zwier asked how the case would be different if the employee had used the word “n- - -er.”

His intention, Zwier said, was to illustrate “how a tortfeasor’s words could elevate the severity of the tort being committed.”

Zwier apologized to his class the next day after being contacted by the Black Law School Students Association. During the discussion that followed, the issue was resolved, Zwier says.

Interim law dean James B. Hughes Jr. wrote an open letter to the Emory law community that said Zwier’s actions were unacceptable, and his “use of this … or any racial slur reflects a tradition of white supremacy that we actively reject at Emory.” The letter said that, “when insulting conversation is normalized, it creates a hostile environment and it undermines our institutional values.”

The letter portrayed Zwier as a racist and indicates that Zwier had “improperly used a racial slur in class without an academic purpose,” Zwier’s suit alleges.

Zwier issued two more public apologies in August and September 2018, his suit says. A second letter by Hughes also falsely stated that Zwier admitted inappropriately using the N-word and had “taken full responsibility for the harm” that was done, “further grossly misconstruing the actions and events that had occurred,” the lawsuit alleges.

Zwier’s second use of the N-word was in a discussion with a Black student who came to Zwier’s office to discuss the classroom incident. The student regularly uses the N-word in his self-published book, but he had sought Zwier’s termination for using the word. The student accused Zwier of “being an innate racist.”

Zwier says he defended himself partly by sharing an anecdote in which white people in his past had accused him of being a “n- - -er-lover.”

In a meeting with a second student, Zwier explained what happened in the meeting with the first student, and he spelled out the N-word, rather than repeated it. This time, Zwier made an audio recording of the meeting and supplied it to Hughes.

Hughes then said in emails to the law school community that Zwier had used the N-word in meetings with two students, the suit says.

Hughes moved to terminate Zwier in June 2018 after Zwier complained about racial discrimination. Zwier was reinstated to teaching in January after a hearing by a faculty hearing committee.

The suit alleges race discrimination in violation of Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act, breach of contract and libel.

Hat tip to Law360 and, which had coverage of the lawsuit.

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