Montana State University student alleges free speech violations
Lawsuit names MSU President Waded Cruzado, Commissioner Clayton Christian
Montana State University officials are violating a student’s right to free speech after she questioned her sorority’s “insistence” members identify themselves with preferred pronouns, alleges a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court of Montana.
The lawsuit also alleges campus officials are infringing on the student’s rights with a no-contact order — one without an end date or due process — after she was allegedly victimized by a fellow sorority member who is LGBTQ.
The student and plaintiff, Daria Danley, is suing Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian, MSU President Waded Cruzado, and Kyleen Breslin, director of MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity.
“Plaintiff Danley’s protests against the harassment inflicted upon her by an LGBTQ student as well as her objections to ‘preferred pronouns’ constitute speech protected by the First Amendment,” as well as the Montana Constitution, the lawsuit said.
Danley had told a sorority leader she was being stalked by the other sorority member, the lawsuit said. Danley did not file a police report, her lawyer said.
The Greek chapter characterized the concerns she raised to the sorority leader about the alleged stalking and pronouns as “hate speech,” and the sorority and campus punished her, the complaint said.
However, in sanctioning Danley, the lawsuit said MSU officials are illegally silencing speech “that might be deemed offensive to LGBTQ students.”
That’s despite a duty to ensure policies don’t discriminate based on political ideas.
“Defendants Christian and Cruzado breached this duty by allowing a discriminatory policy at MSU that tolerates offensive speech made by LGBTQ students while punishing similarly situated non-LGBTQ students who engage in protected speech deemed offensive to LGBTQ students,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit said a similar alleged violation of free speech by MSU cost the institution a $120,000 settlement.
In that 2017 case, student Erik Powell alleged a free speech violation after he was suspended for being critical of a transgender student to a professor in a private meeting, the complaint said.
“MSU’s vindictiveness toward student criticism of the LGBTQ community is not new,” the complaint said. “ … In settling the Powell lawsuit, MSU was required to expunge the plaintiff’s record of disciplinary marks and pay him.”
Bozeman lawyer Matthew Monforton represented Powell and is representing Danley.
In a brief phone call Friday, Monforton criticized the flagship’s Title IX office. Those offices generally oversee discrimination allegations.
“MSU’s woke Title IX office is punishing victims because they object to preferred pronouns in speech that LGBTQ students found offensive,” Monforton said.
MSU did not respond Friday to an email requesting comment, and neither did a spokesperson for the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education.
The lawsuit outlines the events that led up to the court filing:
Danley has been enrolled full-time at MSU since 2020 and joined the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, which has since dissolved its Bozeman chapter, the lawsuit said.
The fellow sorority member “routinely made inappropriate sexual comments in the presence of other AGD members,” and she repeatedly asked Danley to accompany her to her apartment despite Danley’s rejections, the lawsuit alleges.
“Another member of the chapter warned Plaintiff Danley never to be alone with (the sorority member), as that member had observed (her) attempting to take advantage of women when they were intoxicated,” the lawsuit said.
The fellow sorority member is not a defendant in the lawsuit and the Daily Montanan is not naming her in this story.
The complaint also said the alleged stalker “repeatedly ogled” Danley, making her “extremely uncomfortable.”
After she alleged stalking and complained about the use of pronouns, MSU punished her for “hate speech” and imposed a no-contact order against her, which meant she couldn’t go to any sorority events or even enter a building where her alleged harasser was present, the lawsuit said.
Then, MSU officials charged her with “discrimination” in a “sham administrative complaint,” one it later dismissed, the lawsuit said. At MSU’s suggestion, the sorority evicted her, the complaint said.
Danley applied to the sorority’s national headquarters for reinstatement, and her request was granted, the complaint said.
Still, MSU won’t rescind the no-contact order, the lawsuit said.
It said Danley doesn’t want to be part of her specific sorority chapter because she “just happened to get into a bad chapter,” but she does want to participate as an alumna member in activities other alumnae continue to organize.
“I still care greatly for Alpha Gamma Delta as a whole, and I know it does so much good for women,” Danley said in the lawsuit.
But she can’t do so because of the no-contact order “of unlimited duration,” the lawsuit said.
“MSU has rejected repeated requests by the victim to rescind the order and has never explained why the order remains necessary or elaborated on why it was imposed in the first place,” the lawsuit said. “Nor has MSU ever given the victim a hearing to challenge the order.”
In the complaint, Danley alleges the defendants are violating her free speech rights, which prohibit “government officials from subjecting citizens to retaliatory actions in response to protected speech.”
“Danley’s protests against the harassment inflicted upon her by an LGBTQ student as well as her objections to ‘preferred pronouns’ constitute speech protected by the First Amendment,” the lawsuit said.
It also said the order violates her freedom of association, and MSU has provided her no opportunity to be heard, therefore violating her right to due process.
“A person has a protected liberty interest in his or her good name, reputation, honor and integrity, of which he or she cannot be deprived without due process,” the lawsuit said.
It alleges violations of the Montana Constitution as well.
Danley requests a judgment the no-contact order violates her First Amendment rights and that the defendants clear her name in their records.
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