Education

Professor who said Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax loses suit to get his job back

Graves of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School buried at Newtown Village Cemetery on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, in Newtown, Conn.
Graves of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School buried at Newtown Village Cemetery on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, in Newtown, Conn. TNS/ New York Daily News

A former Florida Atlantic University professor — who in 2012 blogged about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, saying it was a hoax — lost his lawsuit Monday after a federal jury ruled that FAU did not violate his First Amendment rights when they terminated him, according to news reports.

James Tracy, a tenured communications professor at the Boca Raton-based university at the time of his blog post, alleged he was fired after posting his conspiracy theory about the December 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 20 elementary schoolchildren and six teachers dead. He said his termination violated his First Amendment rights, leading to the suit in federal court in West Palm Beach.

On his blog, Memory Hole, Tracy questioned if the massacre had really happened, hinting that it was all a FEMA drill to promote gun control and that the parents of the murdered children were “playing a role.”

FAU argued that Tracy’s firing had nothing to do with his published opinions, and that his termination came after Tracy, 52, repeatedly refused to fill out required paperwork about his outside work, reported the Sun Sentinel. The university requires all professors to disclose their outside work to determine whether it could affect their university work.

“Professor Tracy doesn’t follow the rules,” said FAU’s attorney, G. Joseph Curley, according to the Palm Beach Post. “They’re rules that everyone else follows. He doesn’t play by the rules.”

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James Tracy. MCT Photo provided by James Tracy

After three hours of closing arguments on Monday, the jury ruled unanimously in favor of the university. The verdict? FAU did not violate Tracy’s free-speech rights when firing him in January 2016, reported CBS12.

“We just tried to stay away from the emotion of the case and we focused on the evidence, not hearsay or opinions,’’ the jury foreman told the Sun Sentinel.

Tracy’s attorneys took issue with the jury’s decision.

“Dr. Tracy had a First Amendment right to exercise freedom of speech,” said Matthew Benzionone, one of the attorneys for Tracy. “FAU retaliated against him when he exercised his freedom of speech because they didn’t like what he said.”

Louis Leo, another lawyer representing Tracy, called reporters “press-titutes” and purveyors of “fake news,” as he left the courthouse Monday, according to the Post.

“Shame on you, fake news,” Leo said.

The trial began about two weeks ago. Tracy sought reinstatement and back pay, according to various news reports.

Tracy, from Boca Raton, is a father of four who worked at FAU from 2002 until 2016. He received tenure in 2008, according to the Sun Sentinel.

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan

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