Former William and Mary Professor Files Lawsuit

David Dessler, a former tenured government professor who taught at William & Mary, has filed a lawsuit against the college which he accuses of silencing him when he tried to speak out about mental health issues with students. The lawsuit charges that during the fall of 2015 after four students had committed suicide during the 2014-15 school year, that William & Mary prevented him from speaking on student mental health issues.

The complaint filed by Dessler alleges that the campus police department of William & Mary controlled both his communication and movement during the 2015 school year, arresting him five times during that time. Four of the arrests were for harassment, the fifth when he failed to appear between February of 2016 to January 2017. Dessler spent a total of 77 days in jail according to the complaint, but all charges save for one, harassment using a computer, have been dropped.

Dessler was on medical leave from the college at the time and was prevented from contacting the officials at William & Mary. The lawsuit includes four allegations that violated Dessler’s civil and constitutional rights.

  • Failed to provide “reasonable accommodation” for Dessler’s depression, a disability recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Used “adverse employment actions” against Dessler that were focused on his disability
  • Failed to hold a due process hearing before terminating Dessler’s employment, despite it being a right of all tenured professors at William & Mary
  • By banning him from campus and preventing him from speaking to fellow faculty members and students, Dessler’s first amendment rights were violated

The spokesperson for the college did not directly comment on the lawsuit, but did bring up that Dessler had previously filed similar complaints to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission that found no wrongdoing on the part of William & Mary.

Complicating the issue is that William & Mary did not fire Dessler, he remained a tenured professor during that time, although his status was listed as “inactive”. Dessler’s lawsuit claims that the inactive status was essentially being fired. This is because his pay, benefits from insurance, and email access with the college was terminated in early August 2016.

Dessler had been employed by William & Mary since 1984. In 2012, Dessler was rated by the Princeton Review and in the top 300 professors working in the US. It was Dessler’s diagnosis of depression which seems to have changed the course of his career. The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiff is suffering from loss of wages along with mental and psychological harm due to the extreme worry, pain, humiliation, embarrassment, and emotional distress that stems from the actions William & Mary took against him.

Three of Dessler’s former colleagues who are emeritus faculty members did send a letter to the Faculty Assembly and provost on September 9th, 2016 that Dessler was wrongfully terminated because he did not undergo due process as required under the law for tenured professors. However, the college reiterated that Dessler was never fired, but his status was changed to inactive. Dessler resigned from William & Mary the following June.