Assistant AG’s Firing Over Harrasing Gay Student Upheld
Andrew Shirvell, a former Michigan Assistant Attorney General, who used department resources in an online and in-person campaign to harass the University of Michigan’s openly gay student president cannot have his job back, an employment commission has ruled.
In issuing the decision, hearing officer William Hutchens wrote that Shirvell was found to “have engaged in harassing conduct of the basest sort.”
Shirvell’s lawyer, Philip J. Thomas, vowed to appeal and called the ruling “deeply flawed,” saying that Shirvell was simply exercising his constitutional right to free speech outside of work.
The 16-page decision discussed Shirvell’s attacks on Armstrong through his blog and television interviews, including with Anderson Cooper and television station WXYZ. “The fact that the grievant made a media spectacle of himself and the department for which he worked without regard for the interests of his employer constitutes conduct unbecoming a state employee,” Hutchens wrote.
Shirvell, a former University of Michigan student, was found in 2010 by then Attorney General Mike Cox’s office to have engaged in an alarming campaign of physical and online harassing behavior designed to have openly gay student president Chris Armstrong resign from his post.
As well as shadowing Armstrong’s movements, including allegedly standing outside Armstrong’s residence in the early hours of the morning, Shirvell created a blog called Chris Armstrong Watch in which he made a number of demonstrably false claims about Armstrong, his family and friends. On the blog Shirvell labeled Armstrong an “elitist liar,” a “racist” and an”anti-Christian menace” determined to push a “homosexual agenda.” He also accused Armstrong of holding on-campus gay orgies and engaging in underage drinking.
AG Mike Cox came under increasing pressure to fire Shirvell, but because Shirvell was a state employee he enjoyed a job security that limited the ways in which he could be removed from his position.
Cox had previously said that, while he disagreed with Shirvell’s bullying tactics, what Shirvell did in his off-time fell under the purview of his First Amendment rights — even though concerns were raised that Shirvell had clearly overstepped those bounds. However, Shirvell was put on paid administrative leave while an investigation by Cox’s office determined whether there was in fact any recognizable violations of state policy.
As Care2 reported at the time, Mike Cox’s staff later released notice that Shirvell had been fired after the investigation determined that he had in fact used state resources and time to wage his anti-gay campaign against Armstrong, and that he had committed acts of bullying clearly not protected under freedom of speech. The investigation also found that, when quizzed over his conduct, Shirvell had lied to investigators. At one point Shirvell was also banned by university officials from stepping foot on campus.
Chris Armstrong subsequently brought a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission and has filed a lawsuit in which he claims that Shirvell stalked him around the university campus.
Trial events saw Shirvell reprimanded by a federal judge after Shirvell repeatedly attempted to have the majority of charges against him dropped and when he could not do so became irate in court, with the presiding judge commenting that Shirvell had proved the adage that a person shouldn’t represent themselves.
Shirvell, regardless, has filed repeated motions to get the suit tossed before it goes before a jury and has reportedly filed a motion to have the judge compel Chris Armstrong to testify about his religious beliefs and sex life.