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Weinstein v. University of Connecticut

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 22, 2016


         Filed January 21, 2016.

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          For Luke Weinstein, Plaintiff: Jacques J. Parenteau, Magdalena B. Wiktor, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Madsen, Prestley & Parenteau, LLC-NL, New London, CT.

         For University of Connecticut, P. Christopher Early, Defendants: Nancy A. Brouillet, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the Attorney General, Hartford, CT.

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         Warren W. Eginton, Senior United States District Judge.

         In this action, plaintiff Luke Weinstein, a former University of Connecticut professor and Director of the Innovation Accelerator at the University of Connecticut (" UConn" ), alleges that defendants UConn and Dean P. Christopher Earley are liable for violation of his First Amendment right to free speech and violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 31-51q and § 31-51m.[1] Plaintiff also alleges a state common law tort claim of intentional interference with advantageous business relationship against defendant Earley.

         Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which this Court granted in part and denied in part. Specifically, the Court granted summary judgment on plaintiff's claims of First Amendment retaliation based on his speech relevant to workers' compensation coverage for students, payment for students, and Institutional Review Board approval, and denied without prejudice summary judgment on all state law claims pending the Connecticut Supreme Court's consideration of the

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proper standards applicable to section 31-51q.[2] See Trusz v. UBS Realty Investors, LLC, 319 Conn. 175, 179, 123 A.3d 1212 (2015)

         Although his complaint failed to allege that he had been retaliated against based on his speech concerning Dean Earley's nepotism, plaintiff had so argued in his opposition brief and submitted evidentiary support of such claim. The Court ruled that it would consider the merits of plaintiff's claim and afforded defendants the opportunity to file a supplemental motion for summary judgment.[3]

         Defendants have now filed a supplemental memorandum for summary judgment on plaintiff's claim of retaliation based on his speech related to nepotism and the Connecticut Supreme Court has issued its ruling in Trusz v. UBS Realty. Accordingly, the Court will consider whether summary judgment is appropriate on the remaining federal retaliation claim and the state law claims. For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion for summary judgment on the First Amendment retaliation claim against Dean Earley and decline supplemental jurisdiction on the state law claims.


         The parties have submitted statements of fact with supporting exhibits attached. The statements of fact, exhibits and pleadings reveal the following factual background.

         Plaintiff was employed at UConn from January 2007 until August 22, 2011. Until August 22, 2010, he was employed as the Director of the Innovation Accelerator, an experiential learning center, and as an Assistant Professor in Residence in the Management Department of the School of Business Management. From August 23, 2010, through August 22, 2011, plaintiff was employed as an Assistant Professor in Residence. These positions were not eligible for academic tenure.

         The job description for Director of the Innovation Accelerator provided that the Director reported to the Head of the Management Department and " will be appointed on an eleven-month renewable appointment as an In-residence Assistant Professor of Management." As set forth in the description, the Director was expected to, inter alia, " establish a triage process to determine quickly what the needs are and whether work through the Innovation Accelerator will respond to the business

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need; " " create linkages with the technology schools at the University; " and " develop the right team of students and faculty from various disciplines to work with the business on a timeline."

         Plaintiff was the first Director of the Innovation Accelerator. Plaintiff's initial appointment letter and appointment letters for 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 stated: " This position is subject to annual review and may be renewed, subject to the availability of funding and your continued satisfactory performance."

         The appointment letter for the 2010-2011 position of Assistant Professor in Residence provided: " This position does not lead to permanent academic tenure but it may be renewed annually depending upon performance, funding and relevance to the academic mission."

         The work load for students participating in the Innovation Accelerator was considered to be very demanding.

         In March 2010, plaintiff sent an email to Michael Deotte, whom plaintiff understood to be the Director of the MBA program, and Shanta Hegde, Associate Dean for Graduate Programs, regarding whether students would receive academic credit for their work at the Innovation Accelerator for the summer semester. Plaintiff wanted students to be required to receive credit in the summer because there had been instances in the past when students who did not do work had caused " real team problems." He also believed that the Innovation Accelerator could not complete certain research without approval of UConn's Institutional Review Board, which required that students be enrolled for course credit.

         In an email dated March 28, 2010, responding to a request by Hegde, plaintiff explained his understanding of the Institutional Review Board and two alternative ways to obtain its approval. After March 28, 2010, plaintiff learned that Nancy Wallach, Director of Research Compliance at UConn, had advised Hegde that summer projects conducted by students working as paid ...

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