Dixon to sue UT over firingWritten by Justin R. Kalmes | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A former UT administrator who was fired for opinions she expressed about homosexuality on Toledo Free Press’ Web site accused the university of violating her First Amendment rights when it terminated her employment earlier this month.
Crystal Dixon, UT’s former interim associate vice president of human resources, told a group of supporters May 14 she wrote the April 18 column that appeared on the newspaper’s Web site as a private citizen, saying she had a “divine mandate” to write her opinions based upon the Christian faith. Her piece, “Gay rights and wrongs: another perspective,” was written in response to a column by Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller in which he mentioned UT’s policy of offering domestic-partner benefits to university employees but not to those of the former Medical University of Ohio (MUO) when the institutions merged in 2006.
Dixon, before a group of about 60 people at her church, the End Time Christian Fellowship, 2902 Auburn Ave., said the issue is not about whether she’s right in her beliefs, but about her right to express them.
“This is a matter of principle, plain and simple,” she said.
Dixon’s attorney, Thomas A. Sobecki, said he planned to file a lawsuit on Dixon’s behalf against UT on grounds it violated her free speech rights. Sobecki and representatives from the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) in Ann Arbor, which is assisting in the case, are also looking into whether UT discriminated against Dixon on religious or racial grounds. The Thomas More Law Center describes itself as nonprofit law firm “dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians.”
“She was fired from her job … because she exercised her right to free speech,” Sobecki said. “She spoke about something certain people at the university disagreed with.
“She doesn’t want to sue; she’d rather be working right now.”
Brian Rooney, a spokesman for TMLC, said Dixon’s speech was “clearly” protected, according to Supreme Court precedent.
He cited Garcetti v. Cebalos, a case the Court decided in 2006. While Garcetti does not protect free speech by public employees pursuant to their jobs, Rooney said Dixon’s situation is different.
“Garcetti holds that a public employee can speak as a private citizen,” Rooney said.
Neither Dixon nor Sobecki would say if Dixon would accept her job back if the university offered to reinstate her.
The controversy that stemmed from Dixon’s column began after UT President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs submitted his own piece to Toledo Free Press for its May 4 edition to repudiate her opinions and clarify that she did not speak for the university. Dixon was placed on paid administrative leave May 2 — a day after Jacobs submitted his column to the newspaper.
At a predisciplinary hearing May 5, Dixon said she presented Jacobs and other UT officials with documented cases of other university employees expressing negative opinions in the media about Jacobs or of people with viewpoints different from their own.
In a Dec. 22 article in The Blade, UT Vice Provost Carol Bresnahan said those who opposed the City of Toledo’s domestic partner registry were practicing bigotry. Bresnahan, who is gay, was never censured or punished by the university for her remarks, Dixon said.
University officials failed to cite a policy or procedure Dixon violated by submitting her column, Dixon said. The university’s media relations policy does not contain language addressing whether UT faculty and staff may submit opinion pieces to the media.
Jacobs, in a statement, said UT employees were able to speak with the media except in cases where their statements or writings interfered with the ability to do their jobs.
One legal expert sided with Dixon.
“Supreme Court decisions remind us that the fact you are a public employee doesn’t mean you give up your First Amendment rights,” said Floyd Weatherspoon, a professor at Capital University Law School in Columbus. “The majority of her column is about her personal views, but she does mention the university. The courts will have to decide if that converts the opinion to her speaking in an official capacity.”
Weatherspoon said courts are usually conservative on First Amendment decisions, and supportive of employees. He cited Pickering v. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court ruled a school had violated a teacher’s right to free speech by censuring him after he criticized them in print.
“It all goes back to the primary issue of whether she was speaking as a private citizen,” Weatherspoon said. “If she was, the demotion was a reprisal. If not, then the employer has a right to move her to a different job.”
Dixon said UT officials offered to allow her to continue to be employed at the university if she agreed to accept a demotion and salary reduction. She declined the offer, she said, noting UT’s offer was “unacceptable because I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Jacobs notified Dixon of her termination through a May 8 letter in which he said Dixon’s public position called into question her ability to do her job.
Wrote Dixon in her April 18 column: “As a Black woman, 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. Daily, thousands of homosexuals make a life decision to leave the gay lifestyle …”
Dixon, who was hired in 2002 by MUO, said the university had never disciplined her prior to her termination. She said she received an excellent review on her last performance evaluation.
Dixon’s case has created such debate that it has set off an international media firestorm. Her firing has been covered by FOX News, The Dallas Morning News, Inside Higher Ed and by such conservative commentators and news outlets as Rush Limbaugh, The Christian Post, American Spectator and National Review.
Several UT alumni have contacted Dixon to show their support and notify her they would cut their donations to the university because of its handling of the situation, she said.
Despite the influx of support, Dixon said she has received from the community, her former coworkers and people across the globe, gaining attention is not her goal.
“No one should ever have to suffer the public humiliation and treatment that I have suffered for expressing my opinion …” Dixon said.
Toledo Free Press Staff Writer John Krudy contributed to this report.