ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in downtown Phoenix. (Photo: The Republic)
An Arizona State University journalism student is suing the school after she says she was removed from leading the student-run radio station over a controversial tweet.
The lawsuit claims that the university violated Rae’Lee Klein’s First Amendment rights to free expression by refusing to allow her to continue as station manager of Blaze Radio because of her tweet.
The university, in a statement to The Arizona Republic on Tuesday, refuted that claim, saying, “Klein’s conduct in the aftermath of the tweet — rather than the tweet itself — meant that she was no longer able to perform the job for which she was hired.”
But Klein said she was first scolded about her tweet and later scolded for her media appearances and conversations with elected officials as her situation gained attention.
“They were first upset by my free speech and now they’re upset that I’ve become this cause célèbre for free speech, so it’s just disappointing to see them keep taking the same stance and not want to work or correct the situation,” Klein told The Republic.
Jack Wilenchik, Klein’s attorney, filed the complaint in U.S. District Court on Monday against ASU, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Kristin Gilger, Cronkite interim dean.
Klein faced swift backlash from within and outside her radio station after a tweet she posted in the aftermath of police shooting Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 23. Klein shared a New York Post article with graphic details from a police report accusing Blake of sexual assault.
The Aug. 29 tweet, deleted later, was captioned, “Always more to the story, folks. Please read this article to get the background of Jacob Blake’s warrant. You’ll be quite disgusted.”
Many interpreted her tweet as justifying or excusing police brutality against Black people. Klein defended it as sharing truthful information and an additional perspective, as journalists are taught.
The radio station board quickly voted to remove Klein, but Klein refused to step down. In the weeks of turmoil following, Klein said she was told that she could not stay on as station manager and was offered several other job alternatives.
The school has said Klein was not removed because of the views she expressed.
Klein: First Amendment violated
Klein’s lawsuit states that ASU is unlawfully preventing Klein from being station manager based on the content of her free speech. It asks the court to rule for her to remain in that position.
Because ASU is an entity of state government, it cannot legally deny benefits — like a job at the radio station — on the basis of speech, according to the lawsuit. The university also cannot restrict a student’s right to speech or require a student to endorse a certain public policy view, the lawsuit says.
Rae’Lee Klein in the Blaze Radio studio at Arizona State University. Klein has sued the school in the aftermath of her