• September 23, 2014

Court Upholds Firing of College Official Over Op-Ed Against Gay Rights

A federal appeals court has upheld the University of Toledo's decision to fire a high-level human-resources administrator who wrote a newspaper opinion column challenging the idea that gay people deserve the same civil-rights protections as members of racial minority groups.

In a ruling handed down on Monday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the administrator's column "contradicted the very policies she was charged with creating, promoting, and enforcing," and cannot be excused as merely a statement of her own views as a private citizen. The panel affirmed a lower court's decision to dismiss the administrator's lawsuit accusing the public university of violating her constitutional rights by firing her.

At the center of the case was an opinion essay that Crystal Dixon, who had been the university's interim associate vice president for human resources, published in the Toledo Free Press in April 2008. In it, she wrote that she takes "great umbrage at the notion that those choosing the homosexual lifestyle are 'civil-rights victims.'" She argued that she "cannot wake up tomorrow and not be a black woman" because she is biologically and genetically such "as my creator intended." But, she said, "daily, thousands of homosexuals make a life decision to leave the gay lifestyle" with the help of groups such as Exodus International, which claim to be able to help people overcome homosexual desires.

Although Ms. Dixon had not identified her university position in the op-ed, the university's president, Lloyd A. Jacobs, wrote his own Toledo Free Press column distancing his institution from her comments. She was fired after a hearing in which she stood by her views but argued that they did not affect her performance as a human-resources administrator, citing her recent decisions to hire "one, possibly two practicing homosexuals" in her own department.

Ms. Dixon responded to her termination by suing Mr. Jacobs and William Logie, who was the university's vice president for human resources and campus safety at the time. Her lawsuit accused the administrators of violating her First Amendment rights by retaliating against her for her speech. It also accused the administrators of violating her 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law by punishing her for expressing her views on homosexuality while other university employees were allowed to state views on homosexuality that the administration favored.

In upholding the dismissal of Ms. Dixon's lawsuit, the federal appeals court said she differed from other employees cited in her equal-protection claim in that her speech, and not theirs, contradicted university policies. The appeals panel said her essay "spoke on policy issues related directly to her position at the university," and the government's interests as an employer outweighed her free-speech interests in the dispute.

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