Occidental College: Use of Harassment Charges to Suppress Protected Speech

Category: Free Speech
Schools: Occidental College

Shock jock Jason Antebi, a student at Occidental College, served for three years as host of a popular student radio show known for 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, claiming that his show promoted “disrespect and slander” and thus constituted a form of punishable “hostile environment” harassment. Administrators soon fired Antebi from his radio show, and FIRE wrote a letter condemning the college’s actions and pointing out that his speech was clearly protected under the First Amendment. 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. Amid this controversy, Occidental College President Ted Mitchell announced his decision to dissolve the student government, of which Antebi was a vice president. 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 filed suit against the college for violating his free speech rights. Eventually the two parties settled out of court, with Antebi declaring, “I am very happy with the outcome.”



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