This lawsuit is a part of FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project.
Chicago State University (CSU) professors Phillip Beverly and Robert Bionaz are contributing bloggers for CSU Faculty Voice, a blog authored by CSU faculty members that is often highly critical of the former CSU administration’s perceived corruption and incompetence. CSU Faculty Voice was launched in part because of previous unsuccessful efforts by the university to censor the student newspaper for publishing articles critical of the administration and illegal efforts by CSU to improperly withhold public records under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Just as in these previous cases, Chicago State administrators repeatedly endeavored to shut down the Faculty Voice.
In November 2013, CSU sent a demand letter to Professor Beverly, threatening legal action if the blog wasn’t shut down. After Beverly refused, CSU retained outside counsel to pursue unfounded claims of trademark infringement against the authors. FIRE refuted these claims in a letter to CSU administrators, but the university’s attempts to silence the Faculty Voice continued. CSU then quickly authored and adopted a broad “cyberbullying policy” and attempted to use it to silence the Faculty Voice.
On July 1, 2014, the professors filed a lawsuit, coordinated by FIRE, against now-former CSU administrators, challenging the constitutionality of the university’s cyberbullying and computer usage policies. In September 2017, a federal court rejected the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit and rejected much of their motion for summary judgment. The court ruled that the professors had standing and refused to grant the administrators qualified immunity on the professors’ First Amendment retaliation claim.
In January 2019, CSU settled the case, agreeing to pay $650,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees and revise its unconstitutional cyberbullying and computer usage policies.