Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
Americans understandably are focused on news about the January 8 shootings in Arizona that involved U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. But news is breaking in another mass shooting, one that captured the nation's attention in the winter of 2010.
Lawsuits are accumulating as we recently passed the first anniversary of last winter's fatal shootings at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).
Amy Bishop, a former assistant professor of biology, faces criminal charges in the shootings that killed three of her colleagues and injured three others. The rampage, last February 12, came not long after Bishop had been denied tenure.
At least five lawsuits have been filed so far, and none of them names either the University of Alabama System or its trustees as defendants. The lawsuits, however, can be amended to add defendants, and based on our research on the aftermath of the 2007 fatal shootings at Virginia Tech, our guess is that the university eventually will settle the cases for substantial sums of money.
The most recent lawsuit was filed on February 4 by Debra Moriarity, a survivor who now is interim chair of the UAH biology department. Reports The Huntsville Times:
The suit says Bishop repeatedly threatened, kicked or struck Moriarity during the meeting, and aimed a pistol at Moriarity at point blank range and pulled the trigger several times only to have the gun jam.
There is a curious sidebar to the Moriarity lawsuit. In an article about the one-year anniversary of the shootings, Jay Reeves of Associated Press wrote:
Public universities seem perpetually strapped for cash, and Moriarity said the loss of valuable research performed by Bishop and the shooting victims has reduced outside research grants coming into UAH. That's expected to improve as new teachers are hired.
Those words indicate that Bishop was a productive researcher whose work helped keep the department afloat. Other news reports have indicated the same thing. If that's the case, why was Bishop being fired? I worked in the University of Alabama System for 19 years, and I know that in academia, a denial of tenure is equivalent to being terminated. I also know that research productivity usually is the No. 1 criteria for awarding tenure.
Moriarity is suing Bishop, but she also seems to be admitting that Bishop was a valuable researcher, one whose productivity has been missed. So why again was Bishop denied tenure? That's a question that University of Alabama officials surely do not want the public pondering for very long
Am I suggesting that Amy Bishop was justified in shooting people? Of course not. Am I suggesting that she probably had good reason to be pretty darned angry. Yes. Is it stressful to be thrown out of your job during the Bush recession for dubious, or thoroughly illegitimate, reasons? It sure as heck is.