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Hampshire Court Grants Stay To Opponents of Loyalty Oath

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A Hampshire County Superior Court Judge yesterday granted a preliminary injunction that would prevent the University of Massachusetts at Amherst from dismissing 18 employees who have refused to sign a state-required loyalty oath, pending a hearing on the merits of the case.

The case is one of three actions against the newly reinstated loyalty oath now pending in state courts.

Three faculty and staff members of UMass-Boston, who won a temporary restraining order on Wednesday in a class action suit, will seek a preliminary injunction in Middlesex Superior Court next Wednesday, Stephen H. Oleskey, their attorney, said yesterday.

In addition, 31 faculty and staff members of Berkshire Community College at Pittsfield are protected from dismissal by a preliminary injunction granted in October. William A. Norris, attorney for the plaintiffs, said yesterday.

Norris, who is also representing the 18 UMass-Amherst employees, said that in handing down his decision yesterday. Justice Samuel Tisdale suggested that the three cases might be consolidated into one action.

Norris said he may move for an immediate hearing on his two actions before the judges merge them into one argument.

James H. Matlack, assistant professor of English at UMass-Amherst and a plaintiff in the suit, said yesterday. "The challenge rests on the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law. Although the oath is mandatory for every state employee, there have been a lot of inconsistencies in who is actually required to sign it."

Matlack added that although Massachusetts voluntarily suspended the oath requirement for almost three years pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision on its constitutionality, employees hired during that period now face dismissal unless they sign the oath retroactively.

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the loyalty oath last April in a four-to-three decision.

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