The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

UCLA Lecturer Gordon Klein Suing UCLA Over Controversy Related to E-Mail Rejecting Student Request for Exam "Leniency" for "Black Students"


The case is Klein v. Bernardo, filed Monday.

1. Plaintiff Gordon Klein ("Plaintiff"), a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles ("UCLA" or "University"), was severely punished by UCLA after he refused to implement a different grading policy solely for black students.

2. This dispute originated in June 2020 when a non-black student asked Plaintiff to grade his "Black classmates" differently than other students. Plaintiff rejected this request, knowing that his employment contract – and California law – required him to apply the same grading standards and requirements to all students. He also refused because his faculty supervisor recently had encouraged instructors to reject requests for special exam accommodations.

3. After Plaintiff's email reply to the student was posted on social media, some furious individuals called Plaintiff "woefully racist" and organized an online campaign to attack Plaintiff and the UCLA Anderson School of Management ("Anderson School"), where Plaintiff teaches. The Anderson School hastily buckled under this pressure and sought permission from the University to impose disciplinary sanctions on Plaintiff, including terminating his employment. But, as noted below, the University rebuffed the Anderson School, warning that "the School may not take any action … at this time" against Plaintiff.

4. Despite this firm directive, the Anderson School administration abruptly suspended Plaintiff from his teaching duties, banned him from its campus, and hired others to replace him in future scheduled courses. Moreover, the Dean of the Anderson School, Defendant Antonio Bernardo ("Bernardo"), disparaged Plaintiff to alumni and the general public based on the private communications between Plaintiff and the student who had requested preferential race-based grading policies ("Student"). Dean Bernardo even went so far as to publicly disclose the adverse personnel action the School had improperly imposed on Plaintiff.

5. After examining the facts, the University eventually closed its investigation and reinstated Plaintiff. Later, the UCLA Senate Committee on Academic Freedom criticized the Anderson School administration, noting that it had violated Plaintiff's rights and, more broadly, that such conduct "chills" instructors from expressing views that differ from prevailing campus orthodoxy.

6. Plaintiff brings this action not only to redress the wrongful conduct he has endured but also to protect academic freedom….

For more on the controversy, see here, here, and here.