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Winning Again: Settlement in Moraine Valley Community College Case

By Robin Meade

I can’t title this article “I Won” because I already used that title. But now I have won a $125,000 settlement and reinstatement after being fired for criticizing the administration of Moraine Valley Community College.

The fact that I keep winning in court should provide everyone with hope and embolden those in the struggle to continue to fight. The AAUP has my eternal gratitude for providing me with support through a grant from the AAUP Foundation Legal Defense Fund and the support of Committee A here in Illinois.

Adjuncts are part-time college instructors, advisors, counselors and librarians. Traditionally adjuncts taught around 20% of college courses but in the last few decades this has risen to as high as 80% nationwide. At any community college you or your children are likely to have most of your advising, counseling and teaching at done by adjuncts. This rise in adjuncts was to “cut costs” for the school but be sure to check if there has been any cutting in administrator salaries or building on campus before buying in to that line of thinking.

I was an adjunct professor of business at Moraine and president of the adjunct union. The college asked me to write a letter of support for their application to the League for Innovation. After doing some research with the union members, I wrote a letter of dissent. Before sending the letter, I tried repeatedly to engage the administration regarding the issues the adjuncts raised. These efforts at collaboration received no response.

I sent the letter of dissent to this League for Innovation and was fired two days later. I was not given the opportunity to meet and discuss my dismissal with representation from the union. The police chief of the college delivered my termination letter to my house. This letter was written by the Executive Vice President of the college. He testified during his deposition this letter was written AFTER he consulted the college attorney. The letter states that I was being fired for my activities as union president, especially the writing of the letter to the League for Innovation. Firing a union president for being a union president is wrong. Writing a letter as the union president is protected free speech. This is covered in the US Constitution. (The AAUP has a long history of defending cases which support free speech.)

Firing me resulted in two legal cases, one with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board (IELRB) and one in Federal Court for violation of my First Amendment rights. Last fall the Federal District Court granted me my summary judgment, meaning the college had no valid defense to even warrant going to trial.

So ridiculous was the college attorney’s attempt at defense, that he tried to argue that the “Employment Agreement” (which includes the description of work I was expected to perform for the semester, the payment expected, signatures from myself and the business dean) was not a contract.

The court required us to engage in settlement discussions, which we did. Those discussions resulted in a settlement in which Moraine paid me $125,000 in return for an agreement to dismiss my suit against it. I could’ve gone to trial to get a bigger settlement but I saw no reason to put my family and former coworkers through testifying (or watch the college waste more taxpayer money) since I had already won the case. I would like to thank the taxpayers in the Moraine Valley College District 524 for helping me become a first time home owner.

The Labor Board found in my favor as well but this decision was appealed by the college; however, a March 10 ruling by Illinois State Appellate Court, dismissed all of the college’s arguments, repeatedly citing a lack of evidence. To date the college has spent over a quarter of a million dollars on these cases. From reading the testimony in the depositions taken from college administrators, I wonder if the entire board has never been given a copy of the letter I wrote the League for Innovation to read or if they have seen any of the court documents from these cases.

Although I am happy to be vindicated, regardless of my winning this battle with the college, the war for the adjunct instructors at Moraine continues. The adjunct union has been fighting to improve their weak eight-page contract. The adjuncts have been without a contract since June of 2016. I look forward to being reinstated at the college and continuing the fight for the adjuncts there.

Are you interested in the future of education? Do you have a community college or K-12 school district where you live? Would you be willing to run for a board position there? Ensuring checks and balances is as simple as taking this first step. What happens to the education system affects us all.