Thursday, August 17, 2006
Court Throws Out Most of Ex-Student ‘Shock Jock’’s Reverse-Discrimination Case Against College
By a MetNews Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal yesterday threw out most of a suit filed by a former Occidental College student-radio “shock jock” alleging the school disciplined him, a Caucasian male, for harassing students, while letting non-Caucasians or females engage in the same conduct without being disciplined.
In portions of the opinion not certified for publication, Div. Four held that, except for a defamation cause of action, all of the allegations arose out of the school’s disciplinary process, and thus the exclusive remedy was by administrative mandamus.
In a published portion of the opinion, the court held that suits under the “Leonard Law”—which prohibits colleges from disciplining students for speech that would be protected by the First Amendment if it occurred off campus— must be filed while the student is still enrolled.
The court overruled the order of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jane Johnson sustaining the college’s demurrer to a defamation cause of action, but affirmed Johnson’s order sustaining demurrers to all other causes of action without leave to amend.
Jason Antebi attended Occidental, a private, liberal-arts college in Eagle Rock, from 2000 until he graduated in 2004. During that time he had a radio show on the school-run station consisting of political satire, parody, and provocative humor in which he mocked people of every size, religion, gender and political affiliation.
Antebi alleged that his outspokenness both on the radio and in student council meetings caused some students to dislike him. Three of them published statements that he was racist and anti-Semitic and that he harassed women.
After his complaint against the three was dismissed by Dean of Students Frank Ayala, who told Antebi to “fight [his] own battles,” Antebi alleged, he used his show to do just that. He allegedly made insulting comments attacking satirical characters based on the three students and others, and had sexual discussions on the air.
The three students filed complaints against Antebi alleging sexual harassment based upon his on-the-air remarks. Ayala removed Antebi from the radio show and, after an investigation of these and other complaints, concluded that Antebi’s radio program violated the school’s policy against hostile environment and sexual and gender harassment, and ordered that he apologize to the complainants or face “alternative disciplinary action.”
Antebi refused and filed suit.
After Johnson sustained the school’s demurrer to every cause of action without leave to amend, Antebi appealed, arguing that each of his causes of action were based on general principles of tort law rather than Occidental’s rules and, hence, he was not limited to administrative mandamus for review of the disciplinary proceedings.
But Presiding Justice Norman L. Epstein, writing for the Court of Appeal, said that Antebi’s argument was “without merit” because, except for the defamation cause of action, all of the alleged tortuous conduct arose from the disciplinary process.
The court held that the allegations in Antebi’s defamation cause of action—that the school’s general counsel, Sandra Cooper, yelled into a public hallway at Antebi calling him “racist,” “sexist,” “misogynist,” “anti-Semite,” “homophobe,” “unethical,” “immoral,” and “trash”—did not arise out of the disciplinary process and properly stated a cause of action for defamation, the demurrer to which should have been overruled.
Epstein noted that the “Leonard Law” expressly allows one to file suit without having to seek administrative mandamus, but said that Antebi lacked standing under that law because he was no longer enrolled.
“[T]he plain language of the statute—‘any student enrolled . . . may commence a civil action’ indicates that the student must be enrolled when the legal action begins,” he said.
Justice Steven C. Suzukawa and Retired Justice Gary Hastings, sitting by assignment, concurred in the opinion.
The case is Antebi v. Occidental College, 06 S.O.S. 4261.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company