LOS ANGELES, July 23, 2015—California State Polytechnic University, Pomona agreed today to settle a First Amendment lawsuit filed by Nicolas Tomas, a student and animal rights activist. Tomas’ victory restores not only his First Amendment rights but those of the nearly 24,000 students who attend Cal Poly Pomona. The lawsuit is the sixth consecutive victory for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE’s) unprecedented and undefeated Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project.
With assistance from FIRE, Tomas filed suit against Cal Poly Pomona in March after campus police and an administrator prevented him from handing out flyers about animal abuse to his fellow students. The officer told Tomas that he had to request permission from the Office of Student Life during business hours on weekdays before he could express his views on campus. If granted permission, Tomas would then have to limit his advocacy to the school’s “free speech zone,” which comprised less than 0.01 percent of campus.
As part of today’s settlement, Cal Poly Pomona has agreed to revise the restrictive speech codes challenged in the lawsuit—including the policy that limited student speech to a tiny zone—and pay Tomas $35,000 in damages and attorney’s fees.
“The day of the free speech zone on college campuses is over,” said FIRE Associate Director of Litigation Catherine Sevcenko. “This is the fourth free speech zone that has been abolished as the result of a Stand Up For Speech lawsuit, and two more are being challenged in ongoing litigation. One in six schools may have free speech zones now, but when FIRE’s done, it will be zero.”
In addition to sponsoring litigation, FIRE is leading the legislative charge against restrictive campus free speech zones nationwide. FIRE has worked with state legislators to pass laws banning unconstitutional campus free speech zones altogether in Virginia and, just this month, Missouri.
Before filing his lawsuit against Cal Poly Pomona, Tomas tried to work with the administration to reform the university’s policies, but officials told him that they would not change the policies based on his concerns. Frustrated that Cal Poly Pomona’s speech codes unreasonably restricted where, when, and how he could exercise his free speech rights, Tomas turned to FIRE for help.
“I’m pleased to finally see closure in this case. I’m happy to see Cal Poly Pomona take these measures to ensure free speech is protected on campus,” said Tomas. “My hope is that my case will influence other campuses to change their restrictive policies and that other students will be encouraged to freely express what they are passionate about.”
FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, which marked its first anniversary earlier this month, has coordinated 10 lawsuits against public colleges and universities that have restricted student and faculty First Amendment rights. The six settled lawsuits, including Cal Poly Pomona, have restored the free speech rights of almost 200,000 students and secured over $300,000 in damages and attorney’s fees.
Cal Poly Pomona backed down a little over a month after the lawsuit was filed, agreeing to stop enforcing its unconstitutional speech policies. The case was settled in under four months. First Amendment attorney Robert Corn-Revere of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine and his colleagues Ronald London and Lisa Zycherman served as counsel for Tomas.
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, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and freedom of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Katie Barrows, Communications Coordinator, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org