University of North Texas Hurley Administration Building

University of North Texas Hurley Administration Building.

This article has been corrected to reflect Thomas S. Brandon, Jr.'s working relationship with Alliance Defending Freedom.

Nathaniel Hiers, a former adjunct professor, is suing the University of North Texas, alleging wrongful termination and a breach of his constitutional rights.

According to the lawsuit, Hiers’ contract was rescinded after he criticized flyers decrying microaggressions, left by an unknown person in a faculty break room.

Microaggressions, as defined by the flier filed with the lawsuit, consist of verbal or nonverbal cues that project “hostile, and derogatory messages to people rooted in their marginalized group membership (based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.).”

The flyers were not official university notices, according to the lawsuit.

When asked for comment, UNT spokeswoman Leigh Anne Gullett said, “We are in the process of reviewing the lawsuit.”

After defending his doctoral dissertation the previous March, Hiers was made an adjunct professor at UNT in July. Ralf Schmidt, who was largely responsible for Hiers’ termination, was hired as the math department chairman in August, according to his faculty profile.

Along with Schmidt, his associate chairman, William Cherry, is named in the lawsuit. It alleges they coordinated in Hiers’ firing. Also named are Lesa Roe, chancellor of the UNT System; Neal Smatresk, president of UNT; Jennifer Evans-Cowley, provost and vice president for academic affairs; Su Gao, dean of the College of Science; and the entire Board of Regents.

On Nov. 25, Hiers said he wrote, “Please don’t leave garbage lying around,” on a nearby chalkboard with an arrow pointing to the flyers.

Thomas S. Brandon Jr., the attorney representing Hiers, wrote that Hiers “firmly rejects bias and prejudice against any person or group of people, including marginalized groups”; however, he thinks the concept of microaggressions harms diversity and tolerance by promoting a culture of victimhood.

Brandon did not return a call requesting comment.

Brandon is a private attorney allied with Alliance Defending Freedom for Hiers' case. Alliance Defending Freedom is a nonprofit legal group that helps defendants litigate cases relating to “religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family,” according to the group’s website.

When reached for comment as to why it took up Hiers’ case, a representative of Alliance Defending Freedom referred back to a news release.

The day after he wrote the chalkboard message, Hiers was included in a faculty email from Schmidt, the math department chair.

“Would the person who did this please stop being a coward and see me in the chair’s office immediately,” Schmidt wrote, according to the lawsuit.

After replying to the email, Hiers said he went to Schmidt’s office to defend his actions. Hiers and his attorney then claimed Schmidt offered additional diversity training to Hiers beyond the training he was scheduled to take on Dec. 1.

Later that day, Hiers was informed that a contract to teach classes the following semester, which he’d accepted, had been canceled. The contract had not been formalized, but some verbal contracts are legally binding in Texas.

Those three classes would have netted him $10,800, according to the news release.

When approached about the move, Schmidt allegedly told Hiers the decision was based on his lack of “honest regret” relating to the incident at the chalkboard.

By UNT policy, Hiers would have been eligible to appeal his firing. The lawsuit claims he “never had an adequate opportunity to respond to other information or to appeal the decision.”

The lawsuit claims Hiers’ First and 14th Amendment rights were violated when he was terminated for expressing his right to free speech without being given due process.

Because he was early in his academic career, Hiers and his attorney argued his professional reputation has been “severely harmed.” By the time the lawsuit was filed, Hiers claimed he had applied to more than a dozen positions as a math professor, as well as other non-academic jobs.

He is currently employed as a substitute teacher working for Denton ISD but has not been able to work during the pandemic.

He is suing for “nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages” for the alleged violation of his rights, as well as lost wages and attorneys’ fees.

Additionally, he wants his job at the university back and for his record to be purged of any mention to the incident at the chalkboard.

MARSHALL REID can be reached at 940-566-6862 and via Twitter at @MarshallKReid.

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