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Dec 2012
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December 18, 2012

Appeals Court Rules in ‘Free Speech’ Case


The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided an important case yesterday regarding the limits of free speech rights of university employees. In Dixon v. University of Toledo, the court held that UT did not violate Crystal Dixon's free speech rights when it terminated her from her position as interim associate vice president for human resources after she wrote an op-ed column in a local newspaper decrying comparisons drawn between the civil rights and gay rights movements.

In her column, which did not identify her position with the university, Ms. Dixon, an African American woman, was responding to an earlier column that criticized the inconsistency in the university's benefits to same-sex partners among various departments. She defended the university's process to address inconsistencies between benefit offerings across the university, and noted that ". . . I take great umbrage at the notion that those choosing the homosexual lifestyle are 'civil rights victims.’” She made further comments in the column suggesting that gay individuals need not choose to be homosexuals.

Ms. Dixon was fired after an administrative hearing. In a later column, the university president responded that Ms. Dixon's comments did not accord with the values of the university in supporting and expanding diversity on campus.

The Sixth Circuit held that Ms. Dixon did not engage in protected speech when she publicly expressed views that university leadership found to be incompatible with the diversity programs that it charged her with creating, promoting and enforcing. The court’s opinion can be read here.

If you have questions about this case or other matters pertaining to higher education, please contact Sarah Riley Howard (showard@wnj.com or 616.752.2541) or any other member of the Higher Education Industry Group at Warner Norcross & Judd.

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