Judge hands Princeton major loss in defamation case: Former Architecture dean’s claims can go forward

Is the university’s aggressive approach to litigation turning up short?

Architecture professor and former architecture dean Alejandro Zaera-Polo won a significant victory against Princeton in court on Friday as Superior Court Judge Douglas Hurd denied a number of motions filed by Princeton, including the motion to dismiss the case. President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and Dean of the Faculty Deborah Prentice, who was recently named provost and will take office in July, are also listed as defendants.

Zaera-Polo was dismissed as dean in 2014, allegedly after being accused of plagiarism in a work that Zaera-Polo has said was non-academic in nature. He then filed suit against Princeton for breach of contract, trade libel and defamation. Zaera-Polo has alleged, among other things, that investigating faculty committees did not follow proper procedure, that he was dismissed before the investigation was complete, that allegations of plagiarism were based on an outdated draft of his paper and that his digitally stored documents were improperly accessed.

“I am pleased that the Judge denied the University’s motion to dismiss and for summary judgment in its entirety, and the case will now move forward,” Zaera-Polo said in a statement to The Tab. “I am very pleased with the decision and look forward to moving on to the merits of the case.”

Princeton does not comment on pending litigation.

The case will now move on to the discovery phase, making it likely that Zaera-Polo’s attorneys will have the opportunity to take depositions of Eisgruber and Prentice.

The decision is the latest in a string of questionably aggressive approaches to pending litigation by Princeton. In the recent property tax case filed by town residents, Princeton repeatedly filed a number of appeals alleging that the rulings of widely respected New Jersey Tax Court Judge Vito Bianco were incorrect, and the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court repeatedly affirmed Bianco’s rulings. Princeton eventually settled that case.

Now, Princeton is leaving a trail of public records that promise to offer interesting new details as it fights Zaera-Polo’s claims.  The Tab will keep you updated as new information comes to light.

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