LAFAYETTE — A University of Louisiana at Lafayette professor has filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the university’s Communicative Disorders Department alleging faculty members have discriminated against him and marginalized his position because of his beliefs on creationism and an alleged connection between autism, mercury and vaccinations.
John Oller, a professor of cognitive disorders, says in the suit, filed late last week in U.S. District Court in Lafayette, that departmental members have urged him to leave, reduced his class size, forbidden him from participating in policy committees, banned his textbook, denied him opportunities to lecture or instruct students, and announced to him that it was due to his viewpoints on matters of academic and public concern, “thereby condemning him for his outlooks as an official act of department authority,” the suit says.
Those matters involve his beliefs in creationism and intelligent design, semiotic theory and on the association of toxins and disease agents with autism spectrum disorders, which involves the belief that autism is caused mainly by toxins and disease agents, such as mercury.
Oller writes on his ULL web page that the majority of mercury contaminations come from medicine, such as in a preservative called thimerosal, which is still used in certain childhood vaccines.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that prenatal and infant exposure to vaccines and immunoglobulins that contain thimerosal does not increase risk for autism spectrum disorder, according to a report released last year.
The suit says department members have engaged in “concerted efforts” to eliminate his contributions to students by excluding him from teaching opportunities, and forbidding him to use the textbook that he authored to teach the class, even while teaching non-cognitive disorders students.
ULL is closed through Jan. 2 and university representatives were unable to be reached for comment Tuesday.
Oller is being represented locally by Slidell attorney John B. Wells and by a group called Alliance Defense Fund. A call to the office of Jeffrey A. Shafer, one of the listed attorneys, also was not returned Tuesday.
Oller has taught courses in linguistics, research design, language and intelligence testing, literacy, language acquisition and measurement theory. He began teaching at ULL in 1997.
The suit describes Oller as an internationally recognized expert in theoretical semiotics and associated research who applied his expertise to the study of language acquisition and development, communicative disorders, and autism causation and remediation.
“In spite of his indisputable scholarly acumen and acclaimed classroom performance, in the last number of years the governing faculty presence in CODI has methodically discriminated against and marginalized Dr. Oller, progressively removing his teaching opportunities so as to eliminate entirely his influence on CODI students,” the suit says.
Oller accuses Nancye C. Roussel, an associate professor of communicative disorders and the head of the CODI department, and A. David Barry, dean of the college of liberal arts, of violating his First Amendment rights and for breaching promissory and contractual obligations to him. The suit also names Martin J. Ball, a professor of communicative disorders at ULL and the chairman of the CODI department from April 2004 through spring 2008, of violating Louisiana law by breaching promissory and contractual obligations to him, according to the suit.