Case name: Beverly, et al. v. Watson, et al., No. 14 C 4970 (N.D. Ill. 09/29/17).Ruling: The U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois refused to grant summary judgment in a suit against Chicago State University.What it means: The power of a university to control the civility and tone of a faculty blog is limited.Summary: In 2009, Chicago State University professors Phillip Beverly and Robert Bionaz were instrumental in founding a blog entitled “CSU Faculty Voice.”During a 2013 meeting, President Wayne Watson and Vice President Patrick Cage expressed concern to Beverly that the blog didn't adhere to generally accepted civility standards.A few days later, Cage sent Beverly a letter ordering him to “disable” the blog because it was using CSU's trade names and marks without permission. However, CSU had never perfected any of those trademark rights at that time.Beverly and Bionaz refused to shut down the blog.According to Vice President LaShondra Peebles, Watson told her he needed her help in trying to get rid of Beverly.Beverly and Bionaz filed a suit against the university and others that asserted several claims. One of them was that the 2013 Cage “Cease and Desist” letter was in retaliation for exercising their rights of free speech.The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the purpose of the letter was to protect intellectual property rights.But the judge observed that CSU had no trademark rights in its marks at the time the letter was sent, and also that the Cage letter made numerous references to the lack of civility in their blog. Because of those factors, and because the letter was sent shortly after the 2013 meeting when Watson and Cage expressed displeasure about the blog, she ruled that a jury could reasonably conclude that the Cage letter wasn't sent to protect trademarks.The judge ruled that Beverly and Bionaz had presented sufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably conclude that the actions were in retaliation for the exercise of the right to freedom of speech.
Campus Legal Advisor – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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