D.C. Circuit Revives Black Professor’s Claim of Racially Motivated Tenure Denial and Discharge

June 14, 2019

The firm is pleased to announce that on June 14, 2019 the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reinstated the claims of Kemit Mawakana, finding considerable evidence upon which a jury could find that he had been denied tenure at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) School of Law, and fired, because of his race.  In a 3-0 opinion in favor of Mr. Mawakana, the Court noted evidence of a pattern of disparate treatment (favoring white professors, and disadvantaging black professors seeking tenure), as well as evidence tending to discredit UDC officials’ explanations for denying Mr. Mawakana tenure.  The case broke significant new legal ground by rejecting a doctrine of affording strong “academic deference” to university employers accused of discrimination, which had been readily accepted by other federal courts.  The Court of Appeals noted, “although the First Amendment grants a university certain freedoms, the freedom to discriminate is not among them.”  The Court ordered that the case be remanded to the district court for trial. Rick Salzman argued the case before the D.C. Circuit.

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