Appeals court affirms sacking of college administrator over gay rights op-ed

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A federal appeals court has upheld the firing of a high-ranking administrator at the University of Toledo who wrote an op-ed denouncing comparisons drawn between civil rights for racial minority groups and civil rights for gay people.

In its ruling, handed down last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the administrator, Crystal Dixon, did not engage in First Amendment-protected speech when she penned the opinion essay for the Toledo Free Press in 2008.

The ruling affirms a previous lower-court ruling that the publicly-funded school did not violate Dixon’s right to free speech (or her 14th Amendment right to equal protection) by sacking her.

Dixon, the panel said, “wrote an op-ed … that was not commissioned by the University and that contradicted the very policies that she was charged with creating, promoting and enforcing.”

Consequently, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, the court accepted the university’s argument that the op-ed demonstrated that she would be unable to implement its policies effectively.

The Free Press published Dixon’s essay in 2008, when she was the interim associate vice president for human resources at the university. According to the court, the part that landed her in hot water reads:

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. Daily, thousands of homosexuals make a life decision to leave the gay lifestyle evidenced by the growing population of PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex Gays) and Exodus International just to name a few. . . .

The groups Dixon names attempt to assist people in suppressing homosexual desires.

Dixon reportedly did not mention her employer or her job title at any point in her essay. Nevertheless, Lloyd A. Jacobs, president of the University of Toledo, responded about a month later with an op-ed of his own in which he tried to dissociate the school with Dixon’s opinion.

At a May 2008 university hearing, Dixon said she believed she was speaking as a private citizen and suggested that her personal views did not affect her ability to perform her role in human resources. Dixon also pointed to her then-recent decisions to hire “one, possibly two practicing homosexuals,” The Chronicle notes.

In its opinion, the court held that Dixon’s op-ed “spoke on policy issues related directly to her position at the university.” In this particular dispute, the court said, the government’s interest as an employer trumped Dixon’s right to free speech.

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