Gallaudet Take Note: University Within Its Right to Fire Anti-Gay Administrator

As of this writing, the Chief Diversity Officer controversy at Gallaudet University remains unresolved. Will Dr. Angela McCaskill be terminated for signing a petition that was anti-gay in nature? Will she be reinstated or reassigned? Will the University settle the issue by granting the monetary settlement McCaskill seeks? At this time we can only speculate that negotiations between McCaskill’s attorney and Gallaudet continue to take place or have come to a standstill.

During a press conference in October, McCaskill’s attorney indicated that a lawsuit against Gallaudet University was a possibility. This threat has undoubtedly weighed heavily on Gallaudet’s President Alan T. Hurwitz as he attempts to do right by the University and its students. President Hurwitz should take some comfort in Monday’s court ruling in Ohio.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. District Court of Appeals based in Cincinnati became the third court to affirm that the University of Toledo was within its right to fire its head Human Resources administrator, Crystal Dixon, for submitting an anti-gay op-ed column to a local newspaper.

In her column in the Toledo Free Press, Dixon questioned how gay people could ever be considered “civil rights victims” since they could, she asserted, change their sexual orientation whereas she as a black woman could never change the color of her skin. Since she submitted her article during non-working hours, Dixon believed that she had the first Amendment right to express her views despite her job title and responsibilities at the University of Toledo. The University, however, disagreed and given the nature of her position the University placed Dixon on paid administrative leave.

After giving the matter consideration, the University of Toledo chose to terminate Dixon’s employment. In their termination letter to Dixon, the University wrote, “The public position you have taken in theĀ Toledo Free Press is in direct contradiction to University policies and procedures as well as the Core Values of the Strategic Plan, which is mission critical. Your position also 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.”

Dixon filed suit asserting that her First Amendment rights and her Christian beliefs were violated.

Three different courts sided with the University. According to Monday’s Court of Appeals ruling in Dixon vs. The University of Toledo, “The issues raised in this appeal turn primarily on the resolution of a narrow inquiry: whether the speech of a high-level Human Resources official who writes publicly against the very policies that her government employer charges her with creating, promoting, and enforcing is protected. We conclude that, given the nature of her position, Dixon did not engage in protected speech. We therefore AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.”

This court ruling sets beneficial legal precedent to Gallaudet should the University ultimately chose to terminate McCaskill’s employment or should McCaskill file suit against the University.