One dollar is the symbolic award given in free speech cases.
Christian DeJohn, a Pennsylvania Army National Guard sergeant and former Temple graduate student won his free speech case against the university Aug. 4, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that Temple’s former sexual harassment policy did indeed violate students’ First Amendment rights.
“I think [the ruling] sends a strong message. I think it’s going to help protect students’ First Amendment rights,” DeJohn said.
DeJohn first took Temple to court in 2006, filing eight complaints – six retaliation claims against former history department chair Dr. Richard Immerman, history professor Dr. Gregory Urwin, former President David Adamany and the university. The other two claims challenged the constitutionality of the then-standing sexual harassment policy.
A federal judge immediately dismissed DeJohn’s claims of retaliation against Temple, its administration and professors. DeJohn said the university unjustly prevented him from obtaining his degree based on his political beliefs and status as a U.S. military veteran.
The judge, however, did rule that Temple’s sexual harassment policy, which contained language similar to that of the Equal Opportunity Act, was overly broad and unconstitutional. Though the university amended the policy before the case went to court, the judge permanently enjoined the previous one, preventing Temple from reverting back to it.
Temple appealed the ruling in April 2007, but lost the case in August 2008.
“We think the ruling is wrong,” said university counsel George Moore, who oversees all legal affairs of the university. “We think it’s wrongly decided. The court misapplied the law [and] the court didn’t focus on the pertinent facts.”
Moore said that in any case, the ruling will not have immediate impact on Temple or its current policies.
“The adverse consequence of this is that the plaintiff’s attorneys, who make a living out of these kinds of challenges, for whatever purposes that they have in mind, will be able to submit a petition to have Temple pay the attorneys’ fees for having brought this impertinent lawsuit. They haven’t submitted that petition yet,” Moore said.
Attorney Joe Tucker, who represented Temple in court, could not be reached for comment. Nate Kellum, David French and David Hacker, three attorneys that represented DeJohn, could not be reached for comment either.
DeJohn said the ruling is by no means an ending.
He said he is currently considering filing slander suits against Tucker, Urwin, Immerman and Adamany for statements they made about him in court and during his tenure at the university.
“This is a beginning of the next part of the fight,” said DeJohn, who has asked for President Ann Weaver Hart to address the matter in a press conference.
“Why on earth would he be expecting to hear from President Hart? What is the purpose of her communicating with him?” said Moore, who does not understand why DeJohn would request to hear from Hart.
“I am loath to discuss something that has not yet materialized,” said Urwin, who was the secondary reader of DeJohn’s graduate thesis. “I don’t know if he has found a gullible benefactor who is willing to bankroll such a frivolous suit.”
“I stand ready to do whatever is necessary to defend my good name both in court and out,” said Urwin, who was recognized for his valor in aiding a World War II veteran in the Stars and Stripes American military newspaper recently.
DeJohn said he still wants his degree from Temple, having completed all of the requirements for it. He said Temple has been sitting on his thesis, which he paid to have evaluated three years ago.
“They can’t come up with a coherent reason why they’re not evaluating it,” he said.
“We don’t give degrees to people who sue,” Moore said. “We give degrees to people who satisfy the academic requirements.”
Morgan Zalot can be reached at email@example.com.