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California

Harassment policy put on hold

July 15, 2009|Gale Holland

Saying it violates students' free speech rights, a federal judge has barred the Los Angeles Community College District from enforcing a sexual harassment policy that bans "offensive" remarks in and out of the classroom.

U.S. District Judge George H. King granted a preliminary injunction against pressing the policy at the request of Jonathan Lopez, an L.A. City College student who in February filed a suit accusing a professor of censoring his classroom speech about his religious beliefs, including opposition to gay marriage.

Lopez delivered the speech in the emotional aftermath of the passage of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California.

The student said that the professor cut his presentation short, called him a "fascist bastard" and told him to "ask God" for his grade.

The district disciplined the professor, John Matteson, and Lopez received an A in the course. His suit sought financial damages and a ban on enforcing the sexual harassment code.

King said the policy's use of "subjective" terms such as "hostile" and "offensive" discouraged students from exercising their 1st Amendment rights.

In an eleventh-hour argument, the district asserted that the code had been repealed two years earlier. King chided officials for not bringing that up sooner.

"We are chagrined that defense counsel and defendants' representative who were present at the oral argument on June 10, 2009, were apparently ignorant of the status of a policy they purported to defend," King's order said. "This lack of preparedness is viewed with great disfavor."

The injunction will remain in place as Lopez's lawsuit proceeds. Camille Goulet, the college district's attorney, said officials had not decided whether to appeal the injunction ruling but would "be diligent and conscientious in following any final court order."

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gale.holland@latimes.com

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