Settlement in Firing of Professor for Tweets (for $70K + Attorney Fees)

Today, Lora Burnett, a former Collin College history professor fired for tweets critical of the college administration and of former Vice President Mike Pence, accepted the college’s offer to pay $70,000 and attorneys’ fees, bringing her First Amendment lawsuit to an end.

Burnett was represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Although the college has not admitted liability, it has effectively chosen to concede the lawsuit by offering judgment in favor of Burnett….

During the vice presidential debate in October 2020, Burnett tweeted: “The moderator needs to talk over Mike Pence until he shuts his little demon mouth up.” The tweet was picked up by conservative media outlets and outraged Texas State Rep. Jeff Leach, who texted Collin College President Neil Matkin to ask if Burnett was “paid with taxpayer dollars.” Matkin said he would take care of it.

Matkin was again on Burnett’s radar in January 2021 when he sent a counter-tweet to his assertion that the pandemic had been “blown completely out of proportion.” Burnett tweeted a link to an article about a Collin Professor, saying “Another @collincollege professor died from COVID.” Burnett received a formal warning from the college.

During this time, FIRE wrote repeated letters to the college president, advising him of Burnett’s rights and reminding him of the college’s constitutional obligations. Public institutions are bound by the First Amendment; as such, it is unconstitutional to terminate a faculty member based on comments about matters of public concern.

In February, Leach prematurely tweeted that Burnett had been fired, which he characterized as a “BIG WIN.” The college followed suit nine days later. In response, FIRE and Burnett filed a First Amendment lawsuit….

Collin College has disciplined Burnett three times in 2021 over Burnett’s violation of the First Amendment.

On Jan. 28, professors Audra Heaslip and Suzanne Jones — who represent two-thirds of the leadership of a local chapter of the Texas Faculty Association, a non-bargaining union — were informed that their contracts would not be renewed, due to objections from senior administrators. According to the college, the objections of senior administrators to the college’s decision to reopen in the midst of the pandemic were cited. Jones signed a public petition urging that Confederate statues be removed.

Jones has filed a lawsuit against Collin College that is currently pending….