Minneapolis settles suit with fired psychologist for $210,000

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2010 - 8:23 PM

Michael Campion was fired because of concerns over his ties to an "anti-homosexual'' organization.

A psychologist who screened potential Minneapolis police officers will receive a $210,000 settlement from the city over his firing, which stemmed from his affiliation with the Illinois Family Institute and his support for treating the "problem" of homosexuality.

The City Council unanimously agreed Friday after a closed-door session to pay Michael Campion of Campion, Barrow & Associates of Illinois Inc. (CBA) rather than go forward with a U.S. District Court trial scheduled to start Sept. 13 before U.S. Judge Joan Ericksen.

Council Member Gary Schiff, who is gay, said, "It was clear the settlement was in the city's best interest."

The Family Institute has stated that it opposes the "gay lifestyle."

If the city had lost at trial, it could have been made to pay Campion's attorney's fees. Schiff said the settlement amount includes legal fees.

In reaching the decision, Schiff said, the council leaned heavily on an 18-page pretrial ruling from Ericksen, in which she wrote, "The court observes, at this preliminary state, that plaintiffs' First Amendment interests appear to be strong."

Jim Campbell, of the Alliance Defense Fund of Arizona, said the settlement "reinforces that the government cannot penalize Christian contractors for their beliefs.  The court had already issued a decision finding that the City of Minneapolis removed Dr. Campion because of his constitutionally protected involvement with a Christian organization, noting that Dr. Campion's constitutional rights were strong."

Schiff said the council realized that Ericksen's ruling signaled an uphill legal fight.

CBA began working for the city in 2004, about a year after a federal mediator came to town to address concerns about biased policing and low numbers of minority officers. In 2006, members of the Police Community Relations Council, which grew out of the federal mediation, raised concerns about racial bias in CBA's work. Another firm reviewed the work and found no such evidence.

Campion met with the community council in August 2006 and concerns were raised about his affiliation with the Family Institute, founded by James Dobson, and the "anti-homosexual" nature of the organization, the judge's order said.

Former City Council Member Scott Benson, who is gay and a lawyer, sent a note to then-interim Police Chief Tim Dolan and asked, "How did Dr. Michael Campion, who was a board member of the Illinois Family Institute (a notoriously discriminatory anti-gay group) become the psychologist for the Minneapolis Police Dept. for screening new hires etc?"

The same month the city suspended work with Campion and hired another firm to do screening, citing better "diversity and transparency" issues at the firm.

CBA sued, claiming the city violated Campion's First Amendment rights by taking action against him because of his association with the Family Institute.

The city argued that the decision to part ways with CBA stemmed not from Campion's speech but by "concerns about bias."

Campion's business, based in Champaign, Ill., has performed psychological testing for 35 years for more than 100 law enforcement agencies, including St. Paul. A portion of Campion's testing was developed through a U.S. Department of Justice grant in which he sampled St. Paul residents on what characteristics were important in an officer.

Before receiving the psychological exam, applicants are given a conditional job offer. If they are rated unqualified, they generally are not hired.

Campion has not commented on the case. His lawyers didn't return a phone call.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

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