Ex-professor sues university for firing him over conspiracy theory claims

James Tracy harassed the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre

A tenured Florida Atlantic University (FAU) professor who was fired earlier this year after writing that the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was a hoax filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court against the university. 

James Tracy, an associate professor who taught classes including "Culture of Conspiracy," has asserted that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was an elaborate hoax designed to pass gun-control laws. FAU threatened disciplinary action against Tracy in 2013 for the views expressed on his blog. He was successfully defended by union representatives. However, at the request of FAU, Tracy did add a note to his blog explaining that his views do not reflect those of the university.

Victim's parents claim harassment

In December, the parents of a six-year-old boy killed at Sandy Hook, Lenny and Veronique Pozner, wrote in an article for the Sun-Sentinel that Tracy had harassed them for proof of their son's murder. According to the Pozners, Tracy sent them a letter demanding proof that their son, Noah, had ever existed, that Lenny and Veronique were indeed his parents, and that they owned the rights to Noah's photographic image. Lenny Pozner asked Tracy to remove a picture of Noah from his blog.

The Pozners filed a police report for harassment. They said that when they did not respond to Tracy's request, he scorned them for using "copyright claims" to avoid engaging in the conspiracy theory. The Pozners said that while Tracy is entitled to freedom of speech, his position is not protected. Further, they argued, FAU lent credence to Tracy's views by keeping him on the faculty.

After the article ran, Tracy posted a blog post defending his beliefs—while FAU moved to fire him. 

Background on James Tracy

The Pozners continue to face harassment from Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists. Lenny Pozner has said that he is often subject to cruel comments on social media and received death threats after Tracy was fired.

Tracy sues FAU, administrators, union

In his lawsuit against FAU, some of its leaders, and faculty union representatives, Tracy alleges that the university violated its conflicts of interest and outside activities policy, its own principles of academic freedom, and its agreement with the faculty union. Tracy also claims that the United Faculty of Florida, two of its officials, and the Florida Education Association helped FAU fire him instead of supporting him.

The lawsuit alleges that FAU's policy regarding conflicts of interest and outside activities is confusing, vague, and hinders freedom of speech. Tracy argues that he faced automatic termination because union representatives did not respond to FAU's intent to terminate him, nor did they file a grievance on his behalf. Tracy is requesting reinstatement on the faculty and compensation (Svrluga, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 4/26).

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