In a decision released Friday, a Michigan Court of Appeals panel ruled Andrew Shirvell, former state assistant attorney general, was not entitled to unemployment benefits after he was terminated for anti-gay rhetoric against a University student.
The ruling overturns a 2012 decision from the Ingham County Circuit Court that affirmed the state’s decision to fire him, but said he could be afforded unemployment benefits because he was fired over free speech issues.
Friday’s decision stated that the department had met the requisite burden of proof to show that the state’s public interests outweighed Shirvell’s private interests, citing in particular an anti-cyber bullying campaign the attorney general’s office was promoting at the time
“Given the nature of Shirvell’s speech and speech-related activities, it was reasonable for the Department to conclude in its termination letter that Shirvell’s conduct either damaged or had the potential to damage the public’s perception in its ability to ‘conduct its operations and mission,’ ” the decision read.
In a release Friday evening, Shirvell called the appeal court’s reasoning “deeply flawed” and said he would appeal the case to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Shirvell was fired five years ago due to comments and actions he made against then-University student Chris Armstrong, the first openly gay president of the Michigan Student Assembly. The MSA is now known as Central Student Government.
Throughout Armstrong’s tenure as MSA president, Shirvell protested him at public events and also ran a blog called “Chris Armstrong Watch” which alleged that Armstrong had a “radical homosexual agenda.” This led to Shirvell’s temporary banfrom campus. Shirvell argued at the time that his actions were taken as a private citizen and that they were protected as free speech.
In an e-mail, Armstrong’s attorney Deborah Gordon said the court’s decision wasn’t surprising.
“You cannot defame, smear and stalk a college student (and others) and think you can continue working as an attorney for the state,” Gordon wrote. “Mr. Shirvell thought all he had to do was utter the words ‘first amendment’ and he would magically be protected from any consequences for his actions. He was incorrect.”