A federal judge presiding over Steven Salaita's lawsuit has agreed to reinstate a claim that accuses the University of Illinois of destroying evidence about the decision to revoke Salaita's job.
At a status hearing Thursday morning in U.S. District Court in Chicago, Judge Harry Leinenweber at first said he would allow the university to respond before ruling on Salaita's motion, filed earlier this week. But he then issued a written order allowing Salaita's amended complaint to proceed.
Leinenweber said he will wait to rule on a second motion, asking the court to order the university to preserve evidence in the case, according to Anand Swaminathan, Salaita's attorney at Loevy and Loevy in Chicago. The judge's order instructs the UI to respond by Sept. 3 and Salaita to reply by Sept. 7, and sets a hearing for Oct. 27.
The motions were in response to documents released by the UI on Aug. 7 showing that former Chancellor Phyllis Wise and other officials used personal email accounts rather than university addresses in their communications about the case. In at least one case, Wise stated she deleted emails afterward.
During the hearing, the judge indicated that he'd read news accounts of the email revelations, Swaminathan said.
Wise resigned the day before the documents were released as part of an ethics investigation. On Monday, Provost Ilesanmi Adesida also resigned.
Salaita's motion says that Wise "evaded her obligations" under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act "as well as document-retention policies and practices applicable to university email accounts and servers."
The emails were released the day after Leinenweber rejected the university's motion to dismiss Salaita's lawsuit, allowing it to go forward. In that order the judge threw out Salaita's original claim of destruction, or "spoliation," of evidence, related to a missing memo Wise had referred to in an email. The judge said Salaita had access to the email that described the memo and did not prove Wise violated any statute.
The new motions cited the latest email revelations and warned that "important evidence relevant to this case has disappeared or is in danger of disappearing."
The UI revoked Salaita's job after his provocative, sometimes profane, tweets about Israel in summer 2014, weeks before he was to start teaching.
Salaita's lawsuit argues that the UI violated Salaita's rights to free speech and due process and breached its employment contract with him. It seeks Salaita's reinstatement and financial damages, including compensation for economic hardship and damage to his reputation.
In a recent response to the lawsuit, the UI denied most of the allegations regarding the decision to revoke Salaita's job. The UI maintains that Salaita never had an official contract with the university because his appointment had not been approved by the Board of Trustees.
In June, a Champaign County court ordered university officials to turn over emails related to Salaita's case that had been requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
UI officials said Thursday they were still reviewing the amended complaint but had no further comment.