Judge Tosses Free Speech Lawsuit of KU Student Expelled for Sexual Harassment

The student had been expelled for two years over social media posts about his ex-girlfriend.

A University of Kansas’ (KU) student’s lawsuit against a school administrator has been thrown out by a federal judge. The student had been expelled for two years over social media posts about his ex-girlfriend.

Experts tell the Lawrence Journal World that the judgement sends a message that college administrators can’t be forced to pay financial damages in such cases in part because there is so much confusion about online speech and the First Amendment.

Navid Yeasin, who is once again a KU student after serving a two-year suspension, argued in his 2015 lawsuit that KU Vice Provost for Student Affairs Tammara Durham violated his right to free speech by expelling him over Twitter posts about his ex-girlfriend.  During an investigation and formal hearing, his ex-girlfriend said that she was afraid to be on campus.

Yeasin also claimed that KU violated his right to due process and sought to receive damages of more than $100,000. His lawyer claimed the expulsion resulted in Yeasin’s education being delayed, lost employment, lost wages, emotional distress, mental anguish, attorney fees and litigation costs.

However, Judge Julie Robinson dismissed Yeasin’s lawsuit, citing the qualified immunity doctrine. The doctrine protects government officials from liability for civil damages unless they violated the defendant’s “clearly established” constitutional rights. She also explained that Yeasin’s right to online speech is not clearly established under the law.

Additionally, Robinson cited another case in which the court found that a university could expel a student for off-campus social media posts without violating the First Amendment when the speech was directed at classmates, involved conduct at the campus and violated the student code of conduct.

Robinson also said that is wasn’t unreasonable for Durham to believe that the student code of conduct extended her ability to discipline off-campus conduct that applied to another student.

Since Yeasin’s expulsion, the school’s code of conduct had been updated to clarify this issue.

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