This past March, former Adjunct Professor Erika Lopez Prater filed a lawsuit against Hamline University claiming defamation, reprisal, internal infliction of emotional distress, retaliation and religious discrimination. On Sept. 15, United States District Judge Katherine M. Menendez dismissed all claims with the exception of religious discrimination.
After an image of the Prophet Muhammad was shown in Lopez Prater's classroom Oct. 6, 2022. A Muslim student in the class expressed distress to Lopez Prater after class, and reported the incident to members of Hamline Administration and Muslim Student Association (MSA) the next day.
In response, exactly one month after the student reached out to the University, an email sent from the Office of Inclusive Excellence addressed the situation. The email called Lopez Prater's actions "Undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic."
Following the fall semester of 2022, Hamline University decided to not renew Lopez Prater's contract and instead hired a different adjunct professor to teach "Visual Construction of Gender."
These actions led to Lopez Prater filing a lawsuit in March 2023 against Hamline University in Minnesota state court. Because this involved a collective bargaining agreement between the University and the Adjunct Faculty Union—Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 284—the lawsuit fell under federal labor law and was moved from state to federal court.
The incident has created a controversy felt far beyond the campus limits of Hamline University, drawing international attention to the institution. The controversy led to many faculty members voting to ask President Fayneese Miller to resign from her role, and in April she announced her retirement following the next academic year.
Lopez Prater's attorney has made the case that she would have been subject to a different set of treatment if Lopez Prater herself was Muslim. Judge Menendez stated that the claim is novel and it is likely going to be hard to prove the University would have treated her differently if she were Muslim. Despite this, Menendez rejected Hamline's request to dismiss the claim entirely.
"We are encouraged that the Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims for reprisal, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and retaliation in response to our motion," Hamline's Attorney Mark Berhow said. "And, as the case progresses, look forward to demonstrating that the sole remaining claim is similarly not viable."
A pretrial conference is scheduled for Oct. 17 at 1:00pm before Magistrate Judge Dulce J. Foster, ordered on Sept. 18. There has been no motion yet to appeal any of the dismissed claims from Lopez Prater's counsel.