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Doe v. University of Michigan
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
721 F. Supp. 852 (1989)
The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (defendant) adopted an antidiscrimination and antiharassment policy to stem what it viewed as a rise in racial harassment on campus. The policy prohibited physical conduct and “stigmatizing or victimizing” speech based on race, religion, sexual orientation, and various other grounds. Speech was not regulated in various public areas, and university publications were not regulated. However, the policy did apply in educational settings, including classroom discussions. For example, a student was reported for sexual-orientation harassment for his comments about homosexuality and counseling plans for gay patients during a classroom discussion. The student was found guilty of sexual harassment, but he was not convicted, which would have resulted in sanctions, based, in part, on First Amendment grounds. Reported violations resulted in a formal hearing by a panel that was encouraged to require attendance at classes to sensitize violators to the hurtfulness of the offensive speech. These classes were not an effort to change religious or moral convictions, and the Office of the General Counsel ruled on speech that might be permissible under the First Amendment. A violation of the policy resulted in punishment ranging from a formal reprimand to expulsion. John Doe (plaintiff) filed suit claiming that the policy was overbroad and vague and that it prohibited speech shielded by the First Amendment. The university argued that the policy had not been applied in a way that violated freedom of speech. A lower court granted a permanent injunction enjoining the restrictions related to speech but denied the injunction regarding the policy’s prohibitions related to physical conduct. The case came before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to assess whether the policy was overbroad and vague.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Cohn, J.)
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