11th Circuit ruling in Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley litigation

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Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley, No. 10-13925 (11th Cir. Dec. 16, 2011)

Before BARKETT, PRYOR and KRAVITCH, Circuit Judges.
BARKETT, Circuit Judge:

Jennifer Keeton was enrolled in the Counselor Education Program at Augusta State University (ASU), a Georgia state school, seeking to obtain her master’s degree in school counseling. After Keeton completed her first year in the program, ASU’s officials asked her to participate in a remediation plan addressing what the faculty perceived as deficiencies in her “ability to be a multiculturally competent counselor, particularly with regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (GLBTQ) populations.” ASU’s officials required Keeton’s consent to the remediation plan before Keeton could participate in the program’s clinical practicum, in which she would have to counsel students one-on-one. Rather than completing the remediation plan, Keeton filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that requiring her to complete the remediation plan violated her First Amendment free speech and free exercise rights. Along with her verified complaint, Keeton also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that would prevent ASU’s officials from dismissing her from the program if she did not complete the remediation plan.

After holding an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied her motion for a preliminary injunction, and it is from this order that Keeton now appeals.

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Keeton claims that ASU’s officials violated her First Amendment free speech rights in three ways: by discriminating against her viewpoint; by retaliating against her for exercising her First Amendment rights; and finally by compelling her to express beliefs with which she disagrees. We address each specific claim in turn.

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We conclude that the evidence in this record does not support Keeton’s claim that ASU’s officials imposed the remediation plan because of her views on homosexuality. Rather, as the district court found, the evidence shows that the remediation plan was imposed because she expressed an intent to impose her personal religious views on her clients, in violation of the ACA Code of Ethics, and that the objective of the remediation plan was to teach her how to effectively counsel GLBTQ clients in accordance with the ACA Code of Ethics.

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