Sungho Park v. Board of Trustees of the California State University, No. S229728 (Cal. May 4, 2017)
Sungho Park charged his university employer with racial discrimination when he was denied tenure and was terminated. The university move to strike Park’s complaint as violative of the California anti-SLAPP statute, which permits early disposition of suits intended to interfere with free speech or petition activity.
California courts that have reviewed physician termination proceedings have concluded that protected speech is involved, making anti-SLAPP procedures applicable. The California Supreme Court abandoned analogy to such proceedings in Park’s case, noting that the central substance of claims is to be considered in evaluating motions to strike. As almost any transaction will involve communication, the critical question is whether communication itself is complained of, thereby forming the substance of the complaint or whether communication is part of activity on which liability is premised on other theories.
The California Supreme Court found unpersuasive the university’s claim that tenure decisions involve public interest or that the communications and employment decisions are so inextricably interwoven as to make anti-SLAPP dismissal appropriate. The California Supreme Court held that, among other matters, the university failed to demonstrate how the employment decisions advanced the university’s speech interests on matters of public interest. The court cautioned that in view of the many ways in which speech and petition rights might be involved in university activity, its opinion concerning Park’s individual employment claim need not be extended beyond its bounds.