Cal Poly Pomona reaches settlement with student over free speech rights
Cal Poly Pomona has agreed to strengthen campus free speech policies after reaching a settlement with a student who sued when he was restricted from handing out literature promoting a vegan diet.
In the settlement announced Thursday, the college said it has revised policies to ensure that free speech activities such as protests and leafleting are not limited to a single designated area and do not require advance permits.
In addition, university police and staff in the Office of Student Life and Culture Centers will receive training on free speech guarantees.
The college also agreed to pay student Nicolas Tomas $35,000 in damages and attorney’s fees.
Tomas, a 24-year-old nutrition major and animal rights activist, sued the Cal State university in March alleging that the school violated his 1st Amendment rights when police and administrators prevented him from handing out fliers near a parking structure and required him to obtain permits and badges.
His case was among several on campuses around the nation taken up by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia nonprofit that supports free speech and sponsors litigation.
The group has filed 10 lawsuits against public colleges and universities in the last year and settled six in favor of students, with others pending.
Tomas said he was pleased with the result and plans to continue his activism when classes resume in the fall.
“It’s really important that there’s some sort of communication from administration and CSU counsel of what’s constitutional and what isn’t so that there’s no real dispute of what students can and can’t do,” Tomas said.
Pomona officials had previously agreed to cease some of the objectionable policies pending the settlement.
Officials argued that university guidelines have always allowed freedom of expression but that some staff who dealt with Tomas had misinterpreted policies.
“We want to be absolutely clear on this issue: Cal Poly Pomona cares deeply about free speech,” Rebecca Gutierrez Keeton, acting vice president for student affairs, said in a statement. “It is essential to our mission as a learning-centered university and a vital part of a vibrant campus culture.”
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