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Klaassen v. Atkinson

From October 2013 to September 2018
University of Kansas Medical Center (Public college or university)
Kansas City, KS, United States

Identity of Speakers

  • Dr. Curtis Klaassen
    Faculty/Staff
    Other

    Dr. Curtis Klaassen was a tenured professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center ("KUMC") until KUMC fired him in 2014.

Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
    Classroom
    Other course-related event
  • Incident Responses:
    University administration not protective of speech
    Campus police
    Litigation
  • Incident Status:
    Dismissed
  • No protest Occured
  • Was Speech Code incident

Summary

Dr. Klaassen worked as a tenured member of the University of Kansas Medical Center (“KUMC”) faculty for decades and received the title of Distinguished Professor, a title only seven members of the University’s 1,200-member faculty have received. While working at KUMC, Dr. Klaassen would often speak loudly and pound on tables in staff meetings. He also displayed images of guns and discussed suicide in his presentations. While Dr. Atkinson was Executive Dean, Dr. Klaassen criticized many of her decisions and at least once asked faculty members during a faculty meeting to sign a vote of “no-confidence” against Dr. Atkinson. In response to these and other similar actions, Dr. Atkinson took a series of measures against Dr. Klaassen, beginning by removing him from a Chair position. Later, the University placed Dr. Klaassen on administrative leave for engaging “in statements that were belligerent and frightening to other University faculty and staff.” This type of behavior went on for two more years, generating many meetings and resulting in the University placing Dr. Klaassen on administrative leave again. Eventually, the recurrence of Dr. Klaassen’s activities and speech that the University found to be “misconduct” caused the University to dismiss Dr. Klaassen. However, several months before this ultimate termination decision, Dr. Klaassen filed suit against KUMC and various high-ranking KUMC officials. He brought multiple claims against defendants, including a First Amendment retaliation claim. On a summary judgment motion by KUMC, the District Court of Kansas analyzed Dr. Klaassen’s First Amendment claim under the first three steps of the Pickering/Garcetti standard: (1) whether Dr. Klaassen’s speech was made as a part of his official duties, (2) whether Dr. Klaassen’s speech was on a matter of public concern, and (3) whether KUMC’s interest as employer outweighed the free speech interest of Dr. Klaassen. The court first found that Dr. Klaassen’s speech was made as part of his official duties as a professor at KUMC. Although unnecessary for the ultimate disposition of Dr. Klaassen’s First Amendment retaliation claim, the court went on to discuss the other two Garcetti/Pickering factors and found that neither were met by the facts alleged by Dr. Klaassen. Thus, the district court granted summary judgment against Dr. Klaassen’s First Amendment claim. Dr. Klaassen appealed the district court’s decision to the Tenth Circuit on Oct 30, 2018. The Tenth Circuit docket shows no other entries as of November 20, 2019.