Former instructor prevails in free speech lawsuit against Adams State
In 2015, Danny LeDonne published a series of articles criticizing his former employer, Adams State University. The school retaliated with a “No Trespass Order” banning LeDonne from campus. It justified its decision by characterizing LeDonne’s writing work as “harassment” and “terrorism.”
Today, ASU rescinded its “No Trespass Order” and agreed to pay a $100,000 settlement in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. The ACLU argued that the university’s actions had violated LeDonne’s free speech and due process rights.
“By summarily banning Danny from a public campus and falsely labeling him a security threat, without providing any opportunity to rebut the false allegations, the university deprived him of due process and unjustifiably retaliated against him for his constitutionally-protected criticism of university practices,” ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein said in a statement.
LeDonne worked at the university from May 2011 to June 2015 teaching in the Mass Communications program and producing videos. In September 2015, after his employment at ASU had ended, he launched WatchingAdams.org, whose purpose was “to communicate information, conduct investigative journalism, and facilitate discourse about Adams State University (ASU), a state-supported liberal arts university in Alamosa, Colorado.”
The order banning him from campus came Oct. 14 of last year, after LeDonne posted a series of articles that suggested the university had violated the Colorado Open Records Act when it responded to a request 40 days late. He also exposed the university’s egregiously delayed paychecks in violation of the as well as the Colorado Wage Act. Later that month, LeDonne also questioned large disparities in salary for administrative versus academic staff. He found that, while athletic and administrative staff made 120 percent or more of industry benchmarks, academic faculty made 80 percent or even less.
LeDonne responded to the No Trespass Order in a letter that questioned the lack of due process and absence of a policy violation.
The ACLU of Colorado filed suit in February of this year challenging the campus ban. According to its press release, “the parties participated in a mediation before a former federal judge that resulted in a settlement agreement, which was finalized and signed last week.”
In other words, the case never made it to trial.
LeDonne expressed triumph, as well as a conviction to continue his work watchdogging Adams State.
“I sought this legal action to challenge the university’s heavy-handed attempt to discourage me and others who disagree with the administration from speaking out,” he said via a statement from the ACLU. “I am very satisfied with the settlement and look forward to continuing my work in this community.”
[Photo credit: Michael Dorausch via Creative Commons in Flickr]
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