After state auditor Shad White publicly said University of Mississippi professor James Thomas violated the state’s no-strike law, a group representing Thomas is suing White for defamation.
An organization representing Thomas, an outspoken sociology professor who has regularly drawn the public scorn of top statewide Republican elected officials, filed a defamation suit on Wednesday related to White’s “repeated contention” that Thomas violated Mississippi’s no-strike law.
Thomas participated in a national walkout on Sept. 8-9 called the “Scholar Strike,” in which hundreds of faculty at universities across the nation protested police brutality and other racial inequities. Thomas called it a “work stoppage” on Twitter.
After state investigators subpoenaed Thomas’ emails and classroom materials, White, in an early December letter, demanded that Thomas repay more than $2,000 in taxpayers dollars for the two days he didn’t work and wrote that “concerted work stoppages” and strikes are illegal under Mississippi law.
The Mississippi Center for Justice, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Thomas on Wednesday, is also seeking a declaratory judgment from the court that Thomas did not violate the law.
“White falsely accused Dr. Thomas of violating Mississippi’s law prohibiting certain public employee strikes and called on the University to terminate his employment as a result,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed in Hinds County Circuit Court. “The false statement was made by Mr. White in a letter to the Chancellor of the University, in a subsequent letter to Dr. Thomas himself, in at least one press release, and in a number of interviews and other public statements.”
The lawsuit continues: “This lawsuit is brought on behalf of Thomas. It seeks to hold Mr. White accountable under the law of defamation for this false statement. However, Dr. Thomas does not seek the payment of any taxpayer money. This defamation suit is brought against Mr. White in his individual capacity. If Mr. White is found to be liable for this false statement, the jury can decide whether he personally should pay any money. If the jury says he should pay one dollar, that is fine. If the jury orders payment of more money, that is fine too. But no taxpayer money will be paid to Dr. Thomas as a result of this lawsuit.”
White, in a statement, said on Wednesday: “The lawsuit is not worth the paper it’s written on.”