ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A former University of New Mexico student can proceed with a free speech lawsuit against the school alleging she was ostracized by her professors for making anti-gay remarks in paper, a federal judge has ruled.
Chief U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo denied the university’s request to have Monica Pompeo’s lawsuit dismissed, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
Pompeo claims the university acted improperly when she was kicked out of a class in 2012 for describing lesbianism as perverse in a critique of a lesbian romance film.
Pompeo was enrolled in a course called “Images of (Wo)men: From Icons to Iconoclasts” and critiqued a 1985 lesbian drama, “Desert Hearts.” After grading the critiques, Pompeo’s professor told her to pick up her paper and “ponder the responses” the professor gave her.
Those written responses included a comment that the critique was “inflammatory and offensive,” the newspaper reported. The professor also blasted Pompeo’s view that a lesbian character in the film had a “perverse attraction to the same sex” and a “barren womb.”
The lawsuit alleges the teacher violated her own syllabus, which called for “open minds” to examine “representations of a plethora of genders and sexualities.” Instead, Pompeo says, she was accused of resorting to “hate speech,” and the professor refused to grade her paper.
Pompeo alleges the professor also made it clear that it would be in Pompeo’s best interests not to return to the class.
The professor, Caroline Hinkley, did not respond to requests for an interview.
The lawsuit also alleges Pompeo later met with a supervisor at the university and was told the use of “barren” was inappropriate and offensive.
Chief U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo’s Sept. 29 order found Pompeo’s claims were enough to make a plausible case that the university violated her First Amendment rights.
Armijo’s ruling questioned whether a “university can have a legitimate pedagogical interest in inviting students to engage in ‘incendiary’ and provocative speech on a topic and then punishing a student because he or she did just that.”
“Simply because Plaintiff expressed views about homosexuality that some people may deem offensive does not derive her views of First Amendment protection,” the judge wrote.
Pompeo’s attorney told the Journal she looks forward to litigating the case in court.
“This has been pending for a long time,” attorney Louren Oliveros said. “A university should be a place where freedom of expression is invited and where robust debate is welcomed.”
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