After a two week trial, former economic chair Michael Stern’s lawsuit against former Auburn officials concluded with the jury ruling in favor of Stern on one of the claims and against him on the other two after three hours of deliberation.
The defendants in the case were former Provosts Tim Boosinger and Bill Hardgrave and former College of Liberal Arts Dean Joseph Aistrup.
At 3:10 p.m., the jury found that the defendant, Stern, had proved the claim against former dean Aistrup. They stated that Stern’s removal from chair position in the department of economics and his denial of an annual raise demonstrated malice from Aistrup.
The jury awarded Stern a total of $645,837 in damages. With $145,837 of that being a loss of back pay resulting from Aistrup’s actions.
The verdict stated that the plaintiff failed to prove the claims against former Provost Tim Boosinger or Bill Hardgrave. These claims alleged that a lack of annual evaluation from Boosinger and Hardgrave’s role in his denial of a raise or bonus was retaliatory.
At 8:30 a.m., the plaintiffs and lawyers began their closing statements and rebuttals before the jury began deliberating at noon.
Cynthia Wilkinson, one of Stern’s lawyers, stated that this case was a matter of free speech relating to Stern’s comments about the public administration major which was “deemed by the court as protected speech and was of public concern.”
Stern first sued the defendants in 2018. The lawsuit claimed that he was being retaliated against for speaking out against Auburn’s public administration major.
During the defense of Auburn University’s opening statements, they denied that these claims were methods of retaliation against Stern for his concern over the “clustering” of student-athletes.
The University’s legal team alleged that Stern's removal from his position as chair of the department was unrelated to the events highlighted by the plaintiff.
Instead, the defendants argued that Stern’s demotion can be attributed to the fact that he “did not believe the rules applied to him,” and that expanded to his refusal to follow the “chain of command” of administration in which Stern was expected to report to Aistrup.
The defendants closing statements echoed their opening statements.
Throughout the trial, the defendants and the plaintiff called a total of 14 witnesses to testify. These witnesses included Alan Seals, Lilianna Stern, Jay Gogue and Hyeongwoo Kim.
Reporting was contributed by Lily Stewart | Sports Writer.
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My Ly, senior in journalism, is the content editor for the Auburn Plainsman.