In November 2010, former Michigan assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell was fired for his homophobic rants on his personal blog. Shirvell’s comments were directed at Chris Armstrong, then a University of Michigan student who was the first openly gay student assembly president at the university.
Shirvell maintains that his speech was protected by the First Amendment, but grievance officer William Hutchens of the Michigan Civil Service Commission decided that Shirvell “deliberately made a media spectacle of himself and the department,” characterizing Shirvell’s opinions as “hate speech”: “The pattern of conduct in which he engaged constituted hate speech, physical and mental harassment of citizens of this state and a nexus was established between that conduct and his position as an assistant attorney general…It is disheartening to see a bright individual with a great deal of potential engage in such conduct.” Despite determining that all of the work occurred outside of the office and outside of Shirvell’s official capacity, the grievance officer also stated that Shirvell’s firing was justified because it was “conduct unbecoming for a state employee.” Among the hateful comments on his blog, Shirvell said Armstrong had a “radical homosexual agenda.” Shirvell’s attorney intends to appeal the decision, arguing that the grievance officer based his decision on his own biased opinion rather than on the evidence presented in the record.
Notably, in February 2010 before the blogging incident, Shirvell was also disciplined for sending a hateful homophobic email to former state representative Leon Drolet for allegedly being homosexual. Michael Cox, the Attorney General at the time of Shirvell’s grievance, was involved in the decision to fire Shirvell. Among the reasons for firing him, Cox’s review of Shirvell’s blog indicated to Cox that Shirvell’s animosity was escalating, affecting both his conduct at work and outside of work. Cox stated that he feared Shirvell’s conduct, as reflected by statements Shirvell made on his blog, may have risen to the level of stalking, which is a criminal misdemeanor. Finally, Cox stated that his office received over 22,000 phone calls and/or emails demanding that Shirvell be fired. Shirvell will appeal his termination, and presumably argue that his statements were protected by the First Amendment and were sufficiently disconnected from his duties as a state employee.