Court says college administrator has no right to oppose gay rights
Courts | Leigh Jones
A University of Toledo administrator fired after penning an op-ed dismissive of gay rights lost her fight this week to keep her job.
University President Lloyd Jacobs fired Crystal Dixon, then interim associate vice president for human resources, in 2008 for publicly expressing an opinion contrary to school policy. Dixon claimed the school’s action violated her First Amendment right to free speech.
On Monday, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the school, ruling its interest in promoting its values and policies outweighed Dixon’s free-speech interests.
On April 18, 2008, Dixon submitted an editorial to the Toledo Free Press titled “Gay rights and wrongs: another perspective.” In it, she disputed comparisons between gay rights and civil rights, noting her belief that homosexuality is a choice: “As a Black woman who happens to be an alumnus of the University of Toledo’s Graduate School, an employee and business owner, I take great umbrage at the notion that those choosing the homosexual lifestyle are ‘civil rights victims.’ Here’s why. I cannot wake up tomorrow and not be a Black woman. I am genetically and biologically a Black woman and very pleased to be so as my Creator intended.”
Dixon did not identify herself in the column as a university employee, but she did address the school’s benefit plans for same-sex couples. Three days later, Jacobs put her on administrative leave. On May 4, he penned his own op-ed, telling readers Dixon’s position did not “accord with the values of the University of Toledo.”
During an administrative hearing the next day, Dixon said her personal views did not affect her performance as the school’s human resources manager. She also noted that she had recently hired several openly gay staff members to work in her office. But on May 8, Jacobs sent Dixon a termination letter, in which he said her beliefs about homosexuality called into question her ability to continue to do her job.
After Dixon filed suit on Dec. 1, 2008, a district court judge dismissed the case. Four years later, the appeals court affirmed that decision, saying Dixon’s public comments proved she could not be trusted to uphold the school’s prohibition against discrimination: “Although Dixon correctly contends that she never explicitly stated that the University diversity policies should not extend to LGBT students and employees, by voicing her belief that members of the LGBT community do not possess an immutable characteristic in the way that she as an African-American woman does, the implication is clear: Dixon does not think LGBT students and employees of the University are entitled to civil-rights protections, even though the University, in part through the Human Resources Department, expressly provides them.”
In addition to claiming her termination violated her right to free speech, Dixon claimed school officials retaliated against her because they disagreed with her beliefs, violating her right to equal protection. She noted another administrator, Vice Provost Carol Bresnahan, was quoted in an article in the Toledo Blade saying people who opposed same-sex unions were bigots, even if their opposition stemmed from religious beliefs. Bresnahan was not sanctioned for her comments.
But the court claimed it did not have sufficient evidence of the parity of Dixon’s and Bresnahan’s positions within the university to compare their speech on equal terms.
The American Freedom Law Center, which represents Dixon, plans to ask the entire court to rehear the case.
In the brief filed with the 6th Circuit, attorney Robert J. Muise said Dixon’s free speech rights would have outweighed the school’s interests if the district court judge hadn’t tipped the scales in the school’s favor: “Indeed [the school’s] asserted interest in ‘diversity’ and ‘tolerance’ is undermined by their very actions, demonstrating that their interests are in fact illegitimate.”
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