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Michelle Gregoire and Brandon Withers—two students at Kellogg Community College (“KCC”)—were distributing pocket-size copies of the United States Constitution on campus. Although they were not impeding any walkways or accosting students, college administrators approached them and ordered them to stop their activities since they were violating multiple KCC “speech policies.” When Gregoire and Withers refused, citing their First Amendment rights, the school had them—and an associate—arrested, jailed, and charged with trespassing. Although the charges were soon dropped, the school refused to change any of its speech policies. Gregoire and Withers filed a complaint in the Western District of Michigan seeking injunctive, declaratory, and monetary relief to force KCC to change its allegedly unconstitutional policies. The school eventually settled, agreed to change its policies, and paid Gregoire and Withers $55,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees.
Students attempting to form a chapter of Turning Point USA, a national conservative group that recruits college aged members, were stopped from speaking to students outside of the University of Arkansas’s designated free speech zone.
Student was removed from nursing program after posting disparaging statuses about a fellow classmate.
In 2013, the University of South Carolina adopted “STAF 6.24,” a harassment policy that was purportedly designed to limit discrimination and harassment while ostensibly encouraging the open exchange of ideas. Under the policy, “harassment” includes speech that “may include, but is not limited to, objectionable epithets, [and] demeaning depictions or treatments,” as well as “specific […]
Ward Churchill was a tenured professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder in early 2005 when an essay that he wrote in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks was discovered and disseminated to the general public. Among other controversial statements, Churchill’s essay likened the civilians killed in those attacks to Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi officer who had a primary role in planning the Holocaust. After investigating unrelated complaints of academic misconduct, the school terminated Churchill’s employment. Churchill filed suit in state court alleging that the school’s actions violated the First Amendment, among other claims. Although a jury found that the essay was a substantial factor in Churchill’s termination, the Supreme Court of Colorado–sitting en banc–held that the defendant-Regents who had made that termination decision were absolutely immune from suit. The Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari, ending the lawsuit.
James Wetherbe, a professor at Texas Tech University (“TTU”), published multiple op-eds in major news publications decrying the practice of tenure at universities. In alleged retaliation, TTU took several adverse employment actions against Wetherbe, including removing him from his position as an Associate Dean. Wetherbe responded by filing a First Amendment retaliation claim in the Northern District of Texas. Although the district court dismissed his complaint, on appeal the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that Wetherbe’s anti-tenure writings were on a matter of public concern and therefore were eligible for protection under the First Amendment. The court then remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. Since this decision, Wetherbe has amended his complaint twice and the lawsuit is ongoing.
Pamela Smock—a professor at the University of Michigan—was subjected to a Title IX investigation after several of her students made complaints of inappropriate conduct. These complaints were made after Smock had questioned the authenticity of a student’s work product. Despite a finding by the university that Smock’s alleged conduct did not create a “sexually hostile environment,” the Dean of Smock’s department sanctioned her for three years, freezing Smock’s salary—among other punishments. At a later grievance hearing, the university also alleged that Smock had violated the university’s civility policy and ultimately upheld the sanctions. At this point, Smock filed a Complaint in the Eastern District of Michigan alleging—among other things—two First Amendment claims: a facial challenge to the civility policy and a retaliation claim. The court dismissed both First Amendment claims on November 19, 2018. However, the case is ongoing and—from the docket—it appears that discovery dates have been scheduled through 2020.
Dr. Allan Josephson spoke at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation in 2017 and made remarks concerning gender dysphoria in children that angered several colleagues. Weeks later, the university gave into the demands of Dr. Josephson’s colleagues and demoted him to a junior faculty member. In 2019, the school announced that it would not be renewing Dr. Josephson’s contract, a highly unusual decision that practically equates to the firing of Dr. Josephson. On March 28, 2019, Dr. Josephson filed a Complaint in the Western District of Kentucky alleging retaliation by the university in violation of the First Amendment.