After an Eight-Year Legal Battle, Former College Student Wins $900,000 in Free Speech Case

July 24, 2015

By Maria Santos at Red Alert Politics

A former college student has been vindicated in a long-running free speech case, winning a $900,000 settlement from the school that kicked him out over a Facebook post eight years ago.

In 2007, Valdosta State University (VSU) student Hayden Barnes was protesting the building of two new campus parking garages.

Barnes, a passionate environmentalist, posted a parody picture to his Facebook page of the “Zacarri Memorial Parking Garage”—“Zacarri” being the last name of then-VSU president Ronald Zacarri.

Barnes meant the joke as a prod at Zacarri’s boasts about the garage being a “legacy” project for his presidency. But Zacarri claimed it was a death threat, and promptly expelled Barnes from the school for presenting a “clear and present danger.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has been battling for Barnes’ First Amendment rights ever since, and as of this week, the case has finally been settled.

In a Huffington Post editorial, FIRE president Greg Lukianoff writes:

I am thrilled for Hayden and proud of the legal team at Davis Wright Tremaine (DWT), especially lead attorney and DWT partner Robert Corn-Revere, for their tenacious work. To give you some idea of how long this case has been in the works, since his expulsion in May 2007, Hayden has graduated from another college, attended law school (inspired by his own legal travails), married his girlfriend from his Valdosta days, and is now the doting dad of an adorable little girl.

[…]

But the Barnes case is bigger than a David versus Goliath story worthy of its own inspirational Hollywood movie. (Hint, hint. I would like to be played by Daniel Craig or Idris Elba.) It’s bigger than a single legal victory. It points the way to how we can stop university administrators from abusing their power in the future.

More background on the case from FIRE is available here.

Schools: Valdosta State University Cases: Valdosta State University: Student Expelled for Peacefully Protesting Parking Garages