Professor files defamation grievance against Dean in wake of Scalia e-mails


On Monday, March 21st, the Law Weekly obtained a Notice of Grievance filed by Law Center Professor Gary Peller against Dean William Treanor with the Georgetown University Grievance Committee.  The Notice of Grievance alleges that Dean Treanor defamed Peller in retaliation for his criticism of Treanor’s public statement issued in the wake of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia last month, and demands a public apology and retraction.  The grievance is available in full here.

The grievance comes a few weeks after the flurry of emails that students received in the days following Scalia’s death.  During this exchange, Peller, joined by Professor Mike Seidman, criticized Treanor’s tribute to Scalia, instead offering that “…the unmitigated praise with which the press release described a jurist that many of us believe was a defender of privilege, oppression and bigotry, one whose intellectual positions were not brilliant but simplistic and formalistic.”  

Professors Randy Barnett and Nick Rosenkranz rebuked Peller and Seidman’s comments the next day, countering that “…leaders of the Federalist Society chapter and of the student Republicans reached out to us to tell us how traumatized, hurt, shaken, and angry, were their fellow students.”  Their message also alleged that Peller’s initial email was in violation of the faculty email policy.  

In the grievance, Peller alleges that Dean Treanor defamed him by stating to Professors Barnett and Rosenkranz that Peller’s initial email was in violation of campus e-mail policy. Peller contends that the statements are false because “[he] followed Law Center procedures and complied with Law Center and University policies in requesting and receiving authorization to disseminate a communication to all students and staff.”  The policy Peller cited is available here

Peller alleges harm to his reputation for “honesty, integrity and fair dealing” because “the defamatory statements have been widely disseminated….via newspaper accounts, online news reports, and other media…”  He wrote that this reputational injury is especially significant because of the professional and ethical norms mandated by the field of law, and because it may constrain meaningful participation in shared governance.  

Peller’s grievance states that, in the wake of the the email exchange,  he presented Dean Treanor with documentary confirmation of his proper compliance of the Law Center email policy, who then agreed that there was no violation and promised a retraction.  Peller claims that there has since been no retraction, and Dean Treanor has instead “… proffered a series of justifications for his refusal to retract the defamatory statement… Treanor now insists that, although I complied with all written policies, I violated unwritten policies.”  In summation, Peller stated that “The question of “authorization” under law is determined by objective manifestations rather than the secret or subjective intentions of actors.”  

According to the Georgetown Faculty Handbook’s section on grievances, available here, the University Grievance Code Committee consists of seventeen tenured faculty members – seven from Georgetown University, five from the Medical School and five from the Law Center.  The Code states that within three days of the receipt of a Notice of Grievance, a conciliator will be appointed to attempt an informal resolution.  Absent a solution, a three-member Grievance Panel will convene to investigate the notice and issue a report to the Committee at large.  Parties may appeal from initial review, the panel report, or to the University President.  Parties may also come to a mutual agreement at any time.  

As per the Georgetown Law Faculty Handbook’s section on confidentiality of grievances, “Unless confidentiality is waived in writing by the grievant, members of the Committee and participants in all proceedings of this Code shall make every effort to maintain the confidentiality of the proceedings.”  Peller explicitly waives this right to confidentiality in his Notice.  


3 responses to “Professor files defamation grievance against Dean in wake of Scalia e-mails

  1. Embarrassed Student

    The only harm to Peller’s reputation is harm he’s doing himself by filing frivolous lawsuits whining about email policy. But hey, at least our tuition increases (600% of inflation over the last few years) are going to a good cause like creating fodder for Above the Law readers. Seriously guys, you’re tenured professors, not 14-year-old girls on Facebook. Start acting like you represent a distinguished legal institution, or at the very least get a Livejournal so the rest of us don’t have to hear any more of this crap.


  2. This could easily be a proxy war over some issue us peons haven’t even noticed our stake in yet. These two guys know a lot more than me, you, or most of the law-students-or-less on here. I’d give them the benefit, and say they know why this is too important to let go of right now.

    If anyone can help fill me in, in the mean time, I’m all ears.


  3. Pingback: ‘Scaliagate’ Continues: A Professor Brings A Defamation Action Against His Dean | Law Deluxe

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