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Published: Tuesday, 2/7/2012

Federal court dismisses suit against UT


A lawsuit filed by a former University of Toledo human resources official who was fired after writing a column that was critical of gay rights was dismissed in federal court this week.

Crystal Dixon, former associate vice president for human resources at UT, filed a complaint in December, 2008, alleging violation of First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights. The lawsuit initially named the university, UT President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, and William Logie, former vice president for human resources and campus safety, as defendants.

In a 17-page opinion filed Monday, U.S. District Court Judge David Katz denied Ms. Dixon’s claims and instead granted the defendants’ request to dismiss the case. Because claims against the university had previously been dismissed, the opinion closed the case against Dr. Jacobs and Mr. Logie.

“…The balance of [Ms. Dixon’s] interest in making a comment of public concern is clearly outweighed by the University’s interest as her employer in carrying out its own objectives. Therefore, [Ms. Dixon] has failed to establish that her speech was protected,” the judge wrote. “[Ms. Dixon] also claims that she was fired for violating an impermissibly vague speech policy. However, the damage she did to her ability to perform her job and to the University provide ample justification for her termination.”

Ms. Dixon was fired by the university in a letter dated May 8, 2008, after she wrote a column for a local publication. The column was in response to one previously written by the Toledo Free Press’ editor-in-chief that said Ohio lags in gay rights.

In an April 18, 2008, guest column for the newspaper, Ms. Dixon expressed her opinion that gay rights cannot be compared to civil rights because homosexuality is a choice, and she could not choose to not be a black woman. The column further stated her beliefs that there are consequences for those who violate God’s divine order.

In her lawsuit, Ms. Dixon alleged that she was punished for her private political speech and that other members of the university community have written columns for local publications and were not punished.

In a statement released Tuesday, Dr. Jacobs said the university was pleased by the judge’s recent decision.

“The University of Toledo is committed to providing a safe, welcoming environment for all students, faculty, staff, patients and visitors, regardless of race, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation or physical ability,” the statement said.

“This institution will continue to stand by our strategic plan that demands we all work to ‘create an environment that values and fosters diversity; earns the trust and commitment of colleagues and the communities served; provides a collaborative and supportive work environment, based upon stewardship and advocacy, that adheres to the highest ethical standard.’”

Ms. Dixon could not be reached for comment.

The former administrator was represented in the lawsuit by the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor. Thomas Sobecki, who served as her local counsel, said Tuesday that he was disappointed in the decision.

“We’re giving serious consideration to appealing the decision,” he added. “We plan to fully analyze Judge Katz’s decision before deciding how to proceed.”

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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