AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) - An appeals court judge for the 7th District of Texas on April 7 denied a motion to rehear a case filed by Texas Tech University professor and associate dean James Wetherbe that claimed he was the subject of defamatory statements that derailed a promotion.
Wetherbe claimed in his lawsuit that colleague Debra Laverie had made defamatory statements about him during the selection process to find a new dean for the university’s Rawls College of Business Administration.
But the court in reviewing the request for a rehearing disagreed, saying Laverie’s statements were within the scope of her employment at the university and not as an individual outside of her governmental duties. The decision to dismiss the case reversed a Dec. 9, 2016 appeals court ruling that had sided with Wetherbe.
“Laverie was entitled to dismissal (of the defamation suit) when she furnished conclusive evidence she was acting with the scope of her employment,” the appeals court said in its opinion. “She need not have offered evidence of her motives for making the allegedly defamatory statements.”
The case stems from a dean’s search that started in 2011, in which Laverie served on the search committee. Wetherbe also served on the committee but resigned so he could be considered for the position.
“Sometime during the search, Laverie separately informed (the university’s provost) that a staff member reported that Wetherbe was using ‘some sort of listening device or other to eavesdrop on people’s conversations in the Rawls College,’” court documents said.
The provost said the comment did not weigh on his decision to later decline to interview Wetherbe, who had been selected as a finalist for the dean’s position, saying instead he was “unimpressed” with Wetherbe’s initial job interview. The searched ended in 2012.
After failing to win the post, Wetherbe then sued Laverie for defamation, saying the comment about the listening device was a deciding factor.