Sunday, April 20, 2014

Free Speech Win for Paramedics Instructor Deemed Insufficiently 'Sensitive to Diversity'

A California paramedics instructor deemed insufficiently "sensitive to diversity" will be allowed to return to his position at Antelope Valley College (AVC). The college settled with the instructor, Lance Hodge, after a federal judge deemed his lecture about unusual cultural practices paramedics might encounter a matter "of public concern" and allowed Hodge's first amendment claim against AVC to proceed.

In 2010, Hodge—a long-time paramedic and tenured AVC instructor—gave a lecture about "weird" cultural practices his students might encounter in the field. In his career as an emergency medical technician (EMT), Hodge said he'd been exposed to "witch stuff," people using heated coins for healing, and women eating placenta after childbirth.

In the complaint, Hodge alleged First Amendment retaliation and infringement of academic freedom under the First Amendment. In February, District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez allowed Hodge’s First Amendment retaliation claim to proceed.

The Ninth Circuit recently held (in Demers v. Austin, 2014) that teaching and academic writing must receive greater protection under the First Amendment than what Garcetti currently provides. It concluded tha a public university professor’s academic speech is protected by the First Amendment under two conditions: it addresses "matters of public concern" and the employee’s interest in commenting on these matters outweighs the state’s interest in "promoting the efficiency of the public services."

Guiterrez decided that both Hodge's situation fulfilled both conditions. He chastised AVC for "consider(ing) the form of (Hodge's) speech to the exclusion of its context and content."

Earlier this month, AVC and Hodge settled the case out of court. The school will pay half of Hodge’s legal fees, he will retain tenure, and he will not face disciplinary action nor be required to offer an approved diversity lecture.


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