Campus math lecturer Alexander Coward sues UC regents, alleging wrongful termination

Phillip Downey/File

Related Posts

Update: 01/25/16: This article has been updated to reflect new information from campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

Campus mathematics lecturer Alexander Coward filed a wrongful termination complaint against the UC Board of Regents on Friday after nearly three months of ongoing tension with the campus.

Coward, who has taught at UC Berkeley since 2013, outlined three complaints in his suit: whistleblower retaliation, defamation and discrimination in violation of the federal Fair Employment and Housing Act.

“While the UC Berkeley Department of Mathematics would like to provide significant details and respond to the allegations made by Alexander Coward, under the law, policy and a collective bargaining agreement we are prohibited from discussing the specifics of any lecturer’s employment,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email.

Gilmore said she could not comment specifically on the lawsuit because the campus had not formally received the lawsuit as of Monday afternoon.

According to the California Labor Code, employers are not legally able to retaliate against an employee for disclosing information to a person with authority over an employer. The complaint states that Coward had approached his supervisors with reasonable cause to believe that he was reporting violations of law within his department.

Additionally, Coward alleged that the defendants “(caused) excessive internal and external publication of defamation” in the eyes of members of the community and Coward’s colleagues in the mathematics department.

Coward is requesting damages of $2.5 million as well as additional compensation for legal fees and penalties to federal labor codes.

In October, Coward announced his then-possible dismissal via a website post, titled “Blowing the Whistle on the UC Berkeley Mathematics Department,” in which he alleged that his termination was part of a larger practice of “systematically removing the best teachers” from campus.

Coward alleged the procedure of his dismissal constituted a breach of his contract with the campus. In October, he met with campus officials to discuss the grievance he filed.

Simultaneously, students rallied outside the building to protest what they believed was the lecturer’s wrongful termination.

After Coward first posted allegations of the math department’s wrongdoings, the campus released a statement released a statement noting that lecturers are often hired to teach for a limited period of time, with an appointment that expires automatically once the end of the contract period is reached.

In November, Coward said the campus had allegedly not responded to his grievance within a 10-day time limit set by the contract between the University Council-American Federation of Teachers — the union that represents lecturers — and UC Berkeley.

“I wasn’t sure what to do,” Coward said in November, regarding the lack of response from the campus.

The union stopped representing Coward in October after he refused to grant UC Berkeley an extension in adjudicating the grievance and declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.

Contact Austin Weinstein and Adrienne Shih at [email protected].