Crystal Dixon v. University of Toledo

In January 2002, Crystal Dixon began working as the administrative director of employee relations at the Medical College of Ohio (“MCO”), which later became part of the University of Toledo.  She was eventually promoted to acting Administrator for Human Resources.  Dixon was recruited by William Logie, a defendant in this lawsuit, to MCO, and her career at MCO was one of upward advancement based upon her stellar job performance.  Logie, a University Vice President and Director of Human Resources, sought out Dixon because she consistently exceeded expectations in her job performance and she furthered MCO’s diversity goals.  Even after her eventual termination for expressing her personal religious beliefs in a local newspaper, Logie, who was Dixon’s direct supervisor, agreed that


There isn’t a day that goes by that Crystal doesn’t demonstrate the highest degree of professionalism, dignity and behaviors that exemplify her Christian values.


Each year of her employment, Logie gave Dixon the highest rating for embracing diversity.  As Logie noted:


Crystal continues to set the standard for an HR Professional Manager.  Her willingness to re-think issues despite personal biases speak to her extra-ordinary character.  What a great person to be working with! 


On July 1, 2006, the University merged with MCO, creating the university as it exists today with two campuses: the University campus and the Health Sciences campus (formerly MCO).  Shortly after the merger, Dixon was named Associate Vice President for Human Resources—Health Science Campus.  On July 9, 2007, Dixon was promoted to the position of interim Associate Vice President for Human Resources over all University campuses.


University officials knew Dixon’s personal Christian views as far back as 2003, but they also knew that Dixon was impartial in her hiring and other employment-related practices “despite her personal biases,” as was noted in Dixon’s performance evaluations. 


On April 3, 2008, Dixon read an opinion piece published in the Toledo Free Press that was authored by Michael Miller and titled, “Lighting the Fuse: Gay Rights and Wrongs.”  Miller’s opinion piece equated homosexual activity with the struggles of African-American civil rights victims.  Dixon disagreed with the viewpoint expressed by Miller and decided to submit her own opinion piece to the Toledo Free Press to express her personal viewpoint on this matter of public concern. 


Dixon, an African-American woman and sincere practicing Christian, believes that homosexuality is a grave offense against the Law of God and that comparing homosexual activity with the struggles of African-American civil rights victims is wrong and untenable because homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and not an immutable or inherent genetic and biological characteristic like skin or eye color. 


On April 18, 2008, Dixon’s opinion piece, titled “Gay Rights and Wrongs: Another Perspective,” was published in the Toledo Free Press online edition.  In the opinion piece, Dixon expressed her personal viewpoint, stating, in relevant part, “I respectfully submit a different perspective for Miller and Toledo Free Press readers to consider . . . .  I take great umbrage at the notion that those choosing the homosexual lifestyle are civil rights victims.”  Dixon signed her opinion piece as “Crystal Dixon.” 


Dixon did not write her opinion piece pursuant to her official duties at the University, and never once did she claim to be writing on behalf of the University.  Dixon wrote her opinion piece as a private citizen addressing a matter of public concern.  As she noted in her sworn deposition testimony,  I was writing as a private citizen on a Sunday from my home computer.” 


On April 18, 2008, Logie met with Dixon and informed her that he knew the opinion piece was printed online and that he had received complaints.  Dixon asked Logie, “[W]hat was my sin,” and he responded that “he didn’t know yet.” 


On April 21, 2008, Dixon was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. 


On May 4, 2008, an opinion piece authored by “Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, University of Toledo President” was published in the Toledo Free Press.  In this published piece, Jacobs, who is also a defendant in the lawsuit, stated, in relevant part, “Crystal Dixon is associate vice president for Human Resources at the University of Toledo, her comments do not accord with the values of the University of Toledo. . . .  It is necessary, therefore, for me to repudiate much of her writing. . . .  We (the University) will be taking certain internal actions in this instance to more fully align our utterances and actions with this value system. . . .  It is my hope there may be no misunderstanding of my personal stance, nor the stance of the University of Toledo, concerning the issues of ‘Gay Rights and Wrongs.’”  The opinion piece concluded, “Dr. Lloyd Jacobs is president of the University of Toledo.” 


On May 12, 2008, Dixon received a letter from Jacobs dated May 8, 2008, stating that effective immediately her employment at the University was terminated because of “the public position you have taken in the Toledo Free Press. 


Logie testified in his deposition that although he knew Dixon’s personal opinions prior to the publication of the article—opinions which have never had any effect on her ability to perform her job at the highest level—by expressing those opinions in public, she was no longer able to do her job.


On other occasions, employees of the University, including its President, Jacobs, have publicly expressed personal opinions and viewpoints about various political and social issues.  In fact, the Vice Provost of the University, Carol Bresnahan, who was identified by her official University position, was quoted in the Toledo Blade in December 2007 as stating, “[B]igotry is to blame for those who oppose the [domestic-partner registry] law.  It’s their religious beliefs, and bigotry in the name of religion is still bigotry.’”  Despite the alleged emphasis on tolerance, equality, and diversity at the University, Jacobs did not reprimand Bresnahan for her bigoted, anti-religious comments, let alone terminate her employment. 


In explaining the inconsistency, Jacobs testified that “if you make a statement contrary to the university’s value system, that’s not fine.”  Thus, according to Jacobs, it is permissible for high-ranking University officials to publicly proclaim that Christians, such as Dixon, are bigots because doing so somehow comports with the “university’s value system.”  In fact, the University’s termination of Dixon’s employment because she expressed her religious beliefs violates its policy against employment discrimination in the first instance.


Jacobs believes that “employees, by virtue of their employment contract, stated or unstated, implicit or explicit, agree to certain curbs on their utterances such that we don’t violate the principles, the strategic plans, the stated value system of the institution.”  Therefore, employees that express personal viewpoints and opinions contrary to the self-proclaimed orthodox viewpoints and opinions of the University risk disciplinary action.  Indeed, Jacobs justified his right to publicly express the exact opposite personal opinion and viewpoint of Dixon by declaring that his personal belief “is more consistent with the personal belief of the university.”  Thus, as Jacobs testified in his deposition, Dixon is only allowed to express her personal (religious) viewpoint and opinions “to the extent they don’t violate the values and ethics of the institution.”  He further explained that to the extent an employee’s religious convictions may be perceived as inconsistent with University goals, that employee is expected to refrain from expressing those opinions by virtue of her employment with the University.  Consequently, Christians, such as Dixon, are apparently disqualified from holding managerial positions at this “diverse” public university.


Upon terminating Dixon’s employment for expressing her personal religious views in the Toledo Free Press, the University ceased providing Dixon with wages or salary and all other benefits of employment.  Since she was fired for expressing her personal viewpoint in the Toledo Free Press in 2008, and up until April 25, 2011, Dixon had been unable to secure a comparable position with another employer, despite her diligent efforts to do so.  As a result of the University’s actions, Dixon has suffered, and continues to suffer, significant emotional and financial damage. 


On February 6, 2012, a federal judge presiding in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio ruled that the University’s firing of Dixon was justified because, on balance, the University’s diversity interests outweighed Dixon’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.  Dixon is appealing that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert J. Muise will be lead counsel for Dixon on the appeal.

UPDATE (February 21, 2012): The Notice of Appeal was filed.  View the notice of appeal here.  AFLC Senior Counsel Robert Muise will be lead counsel on this case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

UPDATE (April 12, 2012): AFLC filed its opening brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  Read the opening brief here.


UPDATE (June 21, 2012): AFLC filed its reply brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Read the reply brief here.


UPDATE (December 31, 2012): AFLC filed its petition for a rehearing en banc in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  


UPDATE (January 28, 2013): Sixth Circuit requested that the University of Toledo respond to AFLC’s petition for a rehearing en banc (full court review).  This is a strong indication that the appellate court is interested in what AFLC argued in the petition, because a response is not filed unless directed by the court. 


UPDATE (February 27, 2013): Sixth Circuit denied AFLC’s petition for a rehearing en banc (full court).  AFLC now has 90 days to file its petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the high court to review the case. 


UPDATE (May 28, 2013): AFLC filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court, asking the Court to review and reverse the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that dismissed Dixon’s case.


UPDATE (August 20, 2013): AFLC filed its reply brief in the United States Supreme Court in support of its request that the Court review this case.


UPDATE (October 7, 2013): The Supreme Court denied review of AFLC’s petition for a writ of certiorari, effectively ending the case.