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Published: 5/15/2008

Dixon says University of Toledo termination violated free speech right

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Dixon
<br>
<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/TO17150419.GIF> <font color=red><b> VIEW:</b></font><a href=" /assets/pdf/TO45760512.PDF" target="_blank"><b> Letter from UT President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs to Ms. Dixon announcing her termination</b></a> Dixon <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/TO17150419.GIF> <font color=red><b> VIEW:</b></font><a href=" /assets/pdf/TO45760512.PDF" target="_blank"><b> Letter from UT President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs to Ms. Dixon announcing her termination</b></a>
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Attorney Thomas Sobecki, left, Crystal Dixon, her mom Nadine Dixon and church Bishop James M. Williams, Sr., gather at a press conference and support rally at End Time Christian Fellowship, in Toledo on Wednesday. Attorney Thomas Sobecki, left, Crystal Dixon, her mom Nadine Dixon and church Bishop James M. Williams, Sr., gather at a press conference and support rally at End Time Christian Fellowship, in Toledo on Wednesday.
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Crystal Dixon told a group of supporters yesterday her constitutional rights were violated when she was fired from the University of Toledo for writing a column critical of gay rights in a local publication, she told a group of supporters at her church yesterday.

Ms. Dixon said she had a divine mandate to write the column, "Gay rights and wrongs: another perspective," for the Toledo Free Press as a private citizen and that she should not have been fired from her position as associate vice president for human resources at UT because of it.

"Whether you agree with me or not is really not the issue," she said. "The real issue is that I, like every citizen in the United States, have a First Amendment right to exercise free speech and to express my religion.

"I did so as a private citizen and I have been fired by a university that I have loved, served, and supported for many years."

The news conference and support rally held yesterday at her church, the End Time Christian Fellowship, 2902 Auburn Ave., drew more than 60 supporters.

Ms. Dixon's column appeared April 18 on the Toledo Free Press' online edition. It was written in opposition to a column written by Editor-in-Chief Michael Miller that said Ohio lags in gay rights.

She was placed on paid administrative leave the same day.

Ms. Dixon wrote that people who choose to be homosexual are not civil rights victims because they can choose not to be gay and expressed her religious beliefs that there are consequences to those who violate God's divine order.

Her column was followed by one written by UT President Lloyd Jacobs on May 2 that distanced her opinions from the university, stating that among the UT's "core values" are diversity, integrity, and teamwork.

A letter from Dr. Jacobs to Ms. Dixon said her public position was in direct contradiction with university values and told her that her position "calls into question your continued ability to lead a critical function within the administration as personnel actions or decisions taken in your capacity as associate vice president for human resources could be challenged or placed at risk. The result is a loss of confidence in you as an administrator."

Ms. Dixon cited her 25-year career in human resources in which she has hired and recommended the hiring of both homosexual and heterosexual people based on their qualifications.

"To say that I cannot have a personal opinion regarding the practice of some humans and not be effective in my job as a human resources leader is preposterous given my track record for the past 25 years," she said.

Matt Lockwood, a UT spokesman, said yesterday the university welcomes dissent and input from others and the exchange of ideas, but her public expressions called into question her ability to do the functions of her job.

"Certain jobs within a public institution have restrictions on what those people in those jobs can express," he said.

The issue surrounding Ms. Dixon's termination has gained national attention, including mention on The Rush Limbaugh Show, the Family Research Council's Web site, and a number of Web sites and blogs with a focus on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.

Michelle Stecker, interim executive director of EqualityToledo, said she believes it's such a charged issue because Ms. Dixon wrote what she did while working in human resources at a public institution that promotes diversity.

"She's the one who made that choice to use this type of inflammatory language against the LGBT community," Ms. Stecker said. "If she was an administrator of the chemistry department, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Ms. Stecker also said she's glad Dr. Jacobs had the courage to take decisive action to support diversity at UT.

Chris Link, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said the focus should be on Ms. Dixon's job performance, and not what she said with her First Amendment right to speech.

"It would seem perfectly fair and logical for the university to say if this is what you believe, we have to look at your job performance," she said, later adding, "look at their actions, not their words. People should be punished for their actions."

Ms. Dixon's attorney Tom Sobecki, who is working with the Thomas Moore Law Center in Ann Arbor on her case, said they are investigating legal action, including the violation of her First Amendment right as well as religious and racial discrimination. Nothing was filed as of yesterday.

Ms. Dixon has held the position of associate vice president for human resources since July, 2006, and was paid a salary of $134,383.

She was hired by the then Medical College of Ohio in January, 2002.

During a meeting on May 5, Ms. Dixon said she was offered a settlement that included a change in position and salary, which she refused.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at: mgilbert@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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