Man sues Brainerd college over Facebook comments

Published 11:15 am Monday, February 18, 2013

BRAINERD, Minn. — A nursing student has filed a federal lawsuit against officials at Brainerd’s Central Lakes College, alleging that he was wrongly expelled over comments he posted on Facebook.

Craig Keefe, 37, of Gull Lake, filed the suit in U.S. District Court naming the school’s president Larry Lundblad as well a vice president, a dean, the head of the nursing program and the chief executive of the state’s college system.

Keefe wants to be reinstated to his nursing program as well as damages from the defendants, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

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Keefe’s attorney, Jordan Kushner, said school officials never gave the Keefe a specific explanation for his expulsion in December and violated the college’s rules by denying him an appeal. Keefe was a semester away from finishing his studies to be a registered nurse.

“I get a lot of calls about a lot of civil rights issues, and this one jumped out at me,” said Kushner. “There’s just such a huge, glaring absence of due process and a violation of his free-speech rights. It seems obvious that Facebook is his business.”

Michael Dougherty, a vice chancellor at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

“The College’s legal response will be filed by the Attorney General’s Office with the federal district court,” he wrote Monday in an email.

The suit claims school officials complained to Keefe over two Facebook posts. One allegedly used a derogatory term and the other was “a comment about there not being enough whiskey for anger management.”

But Kushner said administrators never showed the offending posts to Keefe, nor did they tell him specifically what he is alleged to have done wrong.

“He really doesn’t know. That’s a big basis for the lawsuit,” Kushner said. “It’s a public institution. You’re entitled to due process before any type of significant action is taken against you. You deserve to know what the charges are and the chance to be heard.”

Central Lakes College has about 6,000 students, and Keefe had been a student there for 3 1/2 years. He is a licensed practical nurse and was enrolled in the Associate Degree Nursing Program to become a registered nurse.

Kushner said Central Lake’s nursing program isn’t accredited so Keefe can’t transfer his credits to another school to finish his studies and become a registered nurse.

“Unless we get the court to order him back in, that degree is shot,” he said. “All the time spent on it is lost.”