Dixon v. Univ. of Toledo, 12–3218.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Citation702 F.3d 269
Docket NumberNo. 12–3218.,12–3218.
PartiesCrystal DIXON, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO, Defendant, Lloyd Jacobs, individually and in his official capacity as President, University of Toledo; William Logie, individually and in his official capacity as Vice President for Human Resources and Campus Safety, University of Toledo, Defendants–Appellees.
Decision Date27 February 2013

702 F.3d 269

Crystal DIXON, Plaintiff–Appellant,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO, Defendant,
Lloyd Jacobs, individually and in his official capacity as President, University of Toledo; William Logie, individually and in his official capacity as Vice President for Human Resources and Campus Safety, University of Toledo, Defendants–Appellees.

No. 12–3218.

United States Court of Appeals,
Sixth Circuit.

Argued: Dec. 5, 2012.
Decided and Filed: Dec. 17, 2012.

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied Feb. 27, 2013.


[702 F.3d 271]


ARGUED:Robert Joseph Muise, American Freedom Law Center, Ann Arbor, MI, for Appellant.
Elizabeth M. Stanton, Taft Stettiniius & Hollister, LLP, Columbus, OH, for Appellees. ON BRIEF:Robert Joseph Muise, American Freedom Law Center, Ann Arbor, MI, Erin Elizabeth Mersino, Thomas More Law Center, Ann Arbor, MI, James R. Acho, Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, Livonia, MI, Thomas A. Sobecki, Toledo, OH, for Appellant. Elizabeth M. Stanton, Sarah D. Morrison, Donald C. Brey, Taft Stettinius & Hollister, LLP, Columbus, OH, for Appellees.

Before: MOORE, GILMAN, and KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judges.


OPINION

KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge.

In 2008, Plaintiff–Appellant Crystal Dixon, an African–American woman and then-interim Associate Vice President for Human Resources at the University of Toledo (the “University”), wrote an op-ed column in the Toledo Free Press rebuking comparisons drawn between the civil-rights and gay-rights movements. Shortly thereafter, Dixon was fired. Claiming violations of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, Dixon subsequently filed a § 1983 suit against the University and Defendants–Appellees University President Lloyd Jacobs and University Vice President for Human Resources and Campus Safety William Logie (collectively, “the defendants”). The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all claims, and Dixon appeals.

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.

I. BACKGROUND

Dixon began her career at the University in January 2002. R. 71–4 (Dixon Tr. at 37:8–38:10) (Page ID # 1396). At this time, she was recruited by Logie to become the Administrative Director of Employee Relations at the Medical College of Ohio (the “College”). Id. On July 1, 2006, the College merged with the University, and Dixon was promoted to Associate Vice President for Human Resources for the Health Sciences Campus. Id. 65:2–9 (Page ID # 1401). In July 2007, Dixon was promoted to interim Associate Vice President for Human Resources for both campuses, the position she held until she was terminated on May 8, 2008. Id. 66:6–14; R. 60–13 (Termination Letter) (Page ID # 521).

On April 4, 2008, Michael Miller, Editor–in–Chief of the Toledo Free Press, wrote an editorial titled “Gay rights and wrongs.” R. 60–7 (Miller Editorial at 1) (Page ID # 501). In this piece, Miller implicitly compared the civil-rights movement with the gay-rights movement: “As a middle-aged, overweight white guy with

[702 F.3d 272]

graying facial hair, I am America's ruling demographic, so the gay rights struggle is something I experience secondhand, like my black friends' struggles and my wheelchair-bound friend's struggles.” Id. Miller then focused on a purported denial of healthcare benefits to same-sex couples at the University, explaining that “[w]hen [the College and the University] merged, [University] employees retained the domestic-partner benefits, but [College] employees were not offered them. So, people working for the same employer do not have access to the same benefits.” Id. at 2 (Page ID # 502).

On April 18, 2008, Dixon responded to Miller with her op-ed column “Gay rights and wrongs: another perspective.” R. 60–9 (Dixon Op–Ed at 1–2) (Page ID # 507–08). Dixon addressed both points highlighted above, but did not identify her official position at the University. Id. Dixon first rejected the comparison made by Miller between the gay-rights and civil-rights movements:

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....

Id. at 1 (Page ID # 507). Additionally, Dixon addressed Miller's discussion of the healthcare benefits system at the University:


The reference to the alleged benefits disparity at the University of Toledo was rather misleading. When the University of Toledo and former Medical University of Ohio merged, both entities had multiple contracts for different benefit plans at substantially different employee cost sharing levels. To suggest that homosexual employees on one campus are being denied benefits avoids the fact that ALL employees across the two campuses regardless of their sexual orientation, have different benefit plans. The university is working diligently to address this issue in a reasonable and cost-efficient manner, for all employees, not just one segment.

Id.


On April 21, 2008, as a result of her op-ed column, Dixon received a letter placing her on paid administrative leave. R. 60–12 (Administrative Leave Letter at 1–2) (Page ID # 518–19). On May 4, 2008, Jacobs wrote a guest column in the Toledo Free Press responding to Dixon's op-ed column. R. 60–11 (Jacobs Op–Ed) (Page ID # 515). Jacobs stated that “[a]lthough I recognize it is common knowledge that 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.” Id. Jacobs then explained the various programs instituted at the University aimed at expanding and supporting diversity on campus. Id.

A hearing was held on May 5, 2008, at which Dixon read a prepared statement reiterating the beliefs stated in her op-ed column, expressing her view that she had been speaking as a private citizen, and accusing the University of treating her differently than other employees. R. 71–4 (Dixon Dep. 174:1–18) (Page ID # 1416); R. 71–8, Ex. KK (Dixon Prepared Statement at 1–3) (Page ID # 1530–32). Dixon

[702 F.3d 273]

also asserted that her personal views did not affect her performance as Associate Vice President of Human Resources:

If the University is taking the Herculean leap to assume that my convictions affect my service to or decisions about those practicing homosexuality, please consider this: it is commonly believed/perceived that there are one, possibly two practicing homosexuals in the Human Resources Department. I hired both of them (one last year and one earlier this year)! I hired both of them with the perception that while they may be homosexual, more importantly they were competent, motivated and simply the best candidates for the jobs. One individual, I actually hired this year after observing a questionable exchange between he and his male roommate in the parking lot one day....

R. 71–8, Ex. KK (Dixon Prepared Statement at 2) (Page ID # 1531).


On May 8, 2008, Dixon received a letter from Jacobs terminating her from the position of Associate Vice President for Human Resources for the following reasons:

The public position you have taken in the 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.

R. 60–13 (Termination Letter) (Page ID # 521).


On December 1, 2008, Dixon filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio against the University, Jacobs, and Logie. R. 1 (Compl.) (Page ID # 1). The parties stipulated to dismiss Dixon's Equal Pay Act claim, and thus the University, from this case on January 7, 2011. R. 55 (Order at 1) (Page ID # 374). On April 29, 2011, Dixon filed a motion for summary judgment, and the remaining defendants cross-moved for summary judgment in response. R. 60 (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J.) (Page ID # 407); R. 71 (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J.) (Page ID # 1321). The district court granted the defendants' motion, and Dixon appealed. Dixon v. University of Toledo, 842 F.Supp.2d 1044 (N.D.Ohio 2012).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment. Int'l Union v. Cummins, Inc., 434 F.3d 478, 483 (6th Cir.2006). We review the evidence and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. “[O]n cross-motions for summary judgment, the court must evaluate each party's motion on its own merits, taking care in each instance to draw all reasonable inferences against the party whose motion is under consideration.” B.F. Goodrich Co. v. U.S. Filter Corp., 245 F.3d 587, 592 (6th Cir.2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

III. CONSTITUTIONAL CLAIMS

Dixon appeals the district court order granting summary judgment to the...

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