Victory at Long Last: Occidental College Settles Free Speech Lawsuit with Wronged Student
October 19, 2007
LOS ANGELES, October 19, 2007—Following a three-year dispute and a multi-million-dollar lawsuit, Occidental College and former student shock jock Jason Antebi have settled a lawsuit in which Antebi sued the school for maliciously violating his freedom of speech and due process rights when it fired him and found him guilty of “harassment” for jokes both on and off the air. Stunningly, Occidental used this controversy as a pretext to dissolve the student government and began an aggressive campaign of false accusations and distortions to justify its actions. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which took up Antebi’s defense in 2004, is happy to announce that Antebi is pleased with the outcome of the settlement.
“This settlement finally brings an end to one of the worst cases I have ever seen,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “While finding a student guilty of ‘harassment’ simply for making jokes is, sadly, all too common on college campuses, Occidental has distinguished itself through the ruthlessness, dishonesty, and opportunism it has displayed against its own students. Using rude jokes as an excuse to dissolve the entire student government, and then to baselessly accuse a student of a laundry list of criminal acts, puts the Occidental administration in a class by itself.”
In 2004, Antebi was fired from his position as host of a popular student radio show after three years of political parody, provocative humor, and frequent mocking of Occidental’s administration, its student government, and various political and social causes. In response to Antebi’s biting on-air satire, three students filed sexual harassment complaints against him in March 2004, claiming that his show promoted “disrespect and slander” and thus constituted a form of punishable “hostile environment” harassment.
Occidental administrators soon fired Antebi from his radio show despite strong objections by the radio station’s student management. Antebi contacted FIRE, which quickly wrote a letter on his behalf
, condemning the college’s actions and pointing out that “none of [the accusers] state[d] a single claim that would transform Mr. Antebi’s speech from fully protected provocative speech to unprotected harassment.”
FIRE soon received a response
from Occidental General Counsel Sandra Cooper that flatly distorted and misrepresented facts and implied, without a shred of evidence, that Antebi had committed a variety of serious offenses including vandalizing cars and making harassing phone calls. On May 6, 2004, FIRE responded with a detailed 28-page refutation
of Cooper’s claims. The ACLU of Southern California also weighed in
on Antebi’s side, prompting Cooper to claim, absurdly, that the ACLU did not understand its own policies. FIRE then informed Occidental’s board of trustees
of the situation but received no response.
Amid this controversy, Occidental College President Ted Mitchell announced his decision to dissolve the student government, of which Antebi was a vice president. While Mitchell did not refer to Antebi by name, virtually all of the reasons he gave for closing down the student government were directly related to the Antebi controversy. Shortly thereafter, Occidental found Antebi guilty of “sexual and gender hostile environment harassment,” ignoring both the college’s promises to defend free speech and California’s “Leonard Law,” which guarantees free speech to students at private colleges and universities in California.
Antebi’s lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court in 2005, accused Occidental of committing a variety of offenses
against him, the most obvious being the violation of his free speech rights. Antebi’s complaint also asked for declaratory relief that would strike down the Occidental policies that allowed Antebi to be found guilty of sexual harassment for his on-air comments.
The complaint explained that Occidental officials “blatantly misrepresented the facts of Plaintiff’s situation, in a knowing and malicious attempt to prevent civil liberties groups and other potential supporters from coming to his defense. The College’s Dean of Students, General Counsel and other university officials painted Plaintiff as a racist, criminal, drug pusher, advocate of violence, unethical student representative, and as a person responsible for an atmosphere of terror on campus in which women were ‘unable to concentrate, sleep, or even walk across campus without fear.’”
“With regard to the settlement, I can’t say much, but I will say that I am very happy with the outcome,” Antebi said. “It is clear to me that Occidental used the controversy surrounding my show as a pretense for dissolving the student government. I believe FIRE’s original investigation into this is dead-on accurate. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that many of those named in the lawsuit are no longer employed by Occidental College.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at Occidental College and on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org
William Creeley, Senior Program Officer, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Westerberg Prager, President, Occidental College: 323-259-2691; email@example.com