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University of Chicago Prevails in Jury Trial Against Former Ph.D. Student

Allegations of Violations of the University Student Policy Manuals Are Rejected
September 30, 2008

Franczek Radelet secured a jury trial victory on behalf of the University of Chicago in the matter of Vernon v. University of Chicago.  Following a nine-day trial, a Chicago jury returned a verdict in favor of the University, which was represented by Franczek Radelet attorneys Jeff Nowak and Bill Pokorny.

The plaintiff was a former Ph.D. student in the University's Graduate School of Business.  In fall 2001, Vernon used a martial arts butterfly knife to cut a bandage off of his finger during a finance class, and displayed it as (in his words) a "conversational prop" during a school-sponsored social gathering.  Thereafter, two students complained about Vernon's use of the knife.  Vernon's Ph.D. program immediately told him to stop carrying the knife on campus because it was a dangerous object prohibited by University policy.  Over the next five months, Vernon sent numerous emails to various University administrators, including the University President, objecting to the decision to ban his knife on campus and to get a understanding about what kind of knives he could bring on campus.  Although Vernon was warned on several occasions that he would be subject to discipline if he continued pestering University officials, he failed to heed these warnings, and his communications became increasingly caustic and unprofessional. As a result, the University brought disciplinary charges against Vernon, and a disciplinary committee suspended him for two quarters for violating the Graduate School of Business' Standards of Conduct.

Vernon later sued the University for breach of contract, alleging that the University violated its student policy manuals by failing to follow its own disciplinary procedures and suspending him for exercising his "freedom of inquiry." Vernon also personally sued the dean who headed his Ph.D. program, alleging that the dean intentionally caused the University to breach its contract, resulting in his suspension.  As a result of the suspension, Vernon claimed that he was unable to complete the Ph.D. program, allegedly ruining his prospects for a successful career as a finance professor.

After deliberating for about 90 minutes, the jury rejected Vernon's claims in their entirety, finding for the University and the former dean.