Judge Rules Former Nursing Student Cannot Collect Damages for Dismissal Over Blog Posts

A former University of Louisville nursing student who was dismissed for writing comments about patients on her MySpace page cannot collect damages as a result of being expelled, because she waived her free-speech rights when she signed an honor code that included a confidentiality agreement, a federal judge ruled Monday.

The former student, Nina Yoder, sued the university three years ago for dismissing her after learning of online postings she wrote that referenced her patients, gun rights, and abortion. A district court decision allowed Ms. Yoder to re-enroll, and she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2010. Ms. Yoder sought damages from the university, but U.S. District Judge Charles R. Simpson III ruled Monday that she had “had no constitutional right” to write about what she saw as a student because of the honor code’s confidentiality agreement, the Associated Press reported.

“Because Yoder herself agreed not to publicly disseminate the information she posted on the Internet, she is not entitled to now claim that she had a constitutional right to do so,” Judge Simpson wrote.

In one post, Ms. Yoder aired anti-abortion views in describing patients who expressed surprise that they were pregnant. She said the university retaliated against her for what she wrote, and the university countered that she was dismissed because she violated its confidentiality agreement, the Associated Press reported. Judge Simpson ruled that Ms. Yoder’s detailed descriptions of patients constituted a “clear violation” of the agreement.

Ms. Yoder’s lawyer, Daniel J. Canon, told the Associated Press that his client would appeal the ruling.

“It is definitely a surprise,” Mr. Canon said. “As far as I know, no court in the country has ever approved this degree of control by a university over its students’ speech.”

Mark R. Hebert, a university spokesman, said his institution took the right steps in the case, according to the wire service.

“This has always been an academic case which was handled appropriately by the university,” he said.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by basheertome]

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