ASU has agreed to settle in a court case with Rae’Lee Klein, a journalism student who was removed from a leadership position at Blaze Radio for a controversial tweet and actions in response to the backlash.
The University will pay Klein $7,040 as reimbursement for some school fees to avoid further litigation of the claims, according to a statement provided by a University spokesperson. Klein originally offered to settle for $500,000, the statement said.
The parties agreed to dismiss the case "with no admission of liability" and Klein "would not file any further claims," according to the statement.
The court also denied Klein's request to prohibit her removal as the station manager at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication's student-run radio station, Blaze Radio, citing a failure to provide "the Court with a basis to grant an injunction," according to the statement.
Klein said in an email statement, "College is supposed to be a place of free thought and free speech for all, regardless of political or personal beliefs," and that "The university did not stand up for those ideals."
She said although the school did not admit any wrongdoing, "the settlement illustrates an understanding of their misjudgement and lack of support."
On Aug. 29, Klein tweeted an article from the New York Post about the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, concerning a police report accusing Blake of sexual assault, and captioned it, “Always more to the story, folks. Please read this article to get the background of Jacob Blake's warrant. You'll be quite disgusted.”
According to other Blaze Radio leadership members, the outcry coming from station members and Klein's subsequent actions addressing the situation prompted their response.
ASU's statement said Klein's tweet led to virtual meetings between her "and scores of students responsible for running the station, other staff, producers and prospective club members," after which they concluded "that relationships had deteriorated to the point that they lost confidence in Klein as a leader and the board decided to deny her further programming authority for the station."
She then filed the lawsuit in October 2020, naming the Arizona Board of Regents, ASU, the Cronkite School and interim Dean Kristin Gilger. The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona later dismissed the claims brought against all defendants except Gilger "with prejudice" in a Dec. 17 ruling.
"I’m happy to see that ASU has, by its actions, finally owned up to its responsibility for not supporting Rae’Lee Klein," Klein's lawyer, Jack Wilenchik, said in an email statement.
He called Klein a victim of a "new McCarthyism," and said she "stood her ground, she fought back, and she won."
The University concluded its statement by saying it "is committed to the pursuit of journalistic excellence that Walter Cronkite personified and the protection of free speech rights under the First Amendment, which are core tenets of the Cronkite School."
"But this case was never about the First Amendment," attorney David J. Bodney said in the University's statement. "We never attempted to restrict her speech. Indeed, she spoke freely throughout this controversy. Rather, it was her conduct after the tweet, which demonstrated her inability to lead the station, that ultimately led to her removal."
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Jeffrey Horst is the digital editor-in-chief of The State Press. He previously served as the publication's sports editor and worked at Cronkite News and ArizonaSports.com.
Wyatt Myskow is the project manager at The State Press, where he oversees enterprise stories for the publication. He also works at The Arizona Republic, where he covers the cities of Peoria and Surprise.