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Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Good Wife Tackles Political Discrimination

In the episode “Parenting Made Easy,” The Good Wife represents a professor who claims she was fired due to discrimination based upon her political beliefs. Whether or not such a claim would exist in the real world depends on whether the school is public or private.

There’s a real-life case going on right now about this very issue, so the show was timely. In this real case, a professor claims the University of Iowa College of Law (a state-run institution) refused to hire her because she’s a Republican, and cites the ratio of only 1 out of 50 professors at the school is Republican. She’s suing under 42 USC Section 1983, claiming her constitutional right of free speech was violated.

Going back to The Good Wife, the first theory the lawyers raised was that the professor was discriminated against due to sexual harassment. That claim kind of fell by the wayside (it was just shoulder-rubbing, so they were probably right to drop that one quickly).

Then they changed their theory to say it was because of her political and religious views on homosexuality. They said it was a civil rights violation. The person who fired her said he believed what she said was hate speech. Let’s forget a moment that they would have to amend their pleadings and give the other side a chance to switch gears as well. They actually did a good job handling this sticky issue by having it be an arbitration, where the rules are much more loose and informal.

The writers didn’t say whether the college was a private one. If it was private, then she has no civil rights and she can absolutely be fired for her political beliefs. They would have had to allege religious discrimination – that she was fired because of her religious beliefs, not for her conservatism or specific political views. So the plotline bothered me because political discrimination is mostly not illegal. I had to make the leap and assume it was a public institution. Personally, I think the religious discrimination angle would have been more interesting plot-wise.

The case result turned on opposing counsel stealing attorney-client communications out of Alicia’s purse, which was just dumb in my opinion. The lawyer would have been disbarred had Alicia complained, so it was a silly way to have him come up with the evidence. They had to show that he is unethical for plot purposes, and this was certainly unethical, but I don’t see Alicia letting him get away with it. It would have been much better had they shown him hiring a hacker to get the client’s personal emails.

Overall, I thought they handled the political discrimination issue pretty well. I would have liked them to say it was because the school was state-run that they could claim this, but I can see why the writers didn’t bother. As usual, The Good Wife’s writers handled a legal issue in a way that even a lawyer can enjoy watching.

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