The south suburban theater professor’s instructions to an acting student were allegedly clear — pretend to be a pimp trying to collect money from a sex worker.
But the April improv exercise has resulted in a lawsuit after the student claimed he’s no longer allowed to register for new classes because he used an “unacceptable word” while play-acting as a pimp, caused a “disruption” during a meeting with the college’s staff and then refused to write an essay handed down as punishment.
Joshua Zale, who is thought to be in his 30s, sued Moraine Valley Community College in Cook County Circuit Court this week, alleging his free-speech rights have been violated. Zale, an Oak Lawn resident who is representing himself, is asking a judge to allow him to register for new classes and award him monetary damages.
The lawsuit states that Zale “is being penalized by defendants for the statements he made during an acting exercise in a course … and for his conduct in questioning the reasons for which he was being told his actions were inappropriate.”
Court records don’t mention the word Zale used during his class performance, but afterward his professor allegedly told him it was unacceptable. On April 20, Zale met with the instructor to find out why he had been chastised for using “a word which was precisely within the assignment he had been given,” according to the lawsuit.
Zale alleges that during the discussion, an assistant dean also accused him of “mistreating her as a woman” under Title IX, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Monday. Title IX is part of a 1972 law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance.
Six days later, he received an email from the dean of students alleging he had violated the student code of conduct during the April 20 meeting by causing a disruption and for “physical/verbal abuse or harassment,” according to a copy of the email included in the lawsuit.
A disciplinary hearing was set that Zale did not attend, according to the lawsuit, because he would not be able to confront his accusers.
After Zale did not attend a disciplinary hearing, he received a warning for the violations and was ordered to write an essay in 12-point font about how the college’s five core values “apply to your interactions with the staff members involved.”
Another email on May 19 from the dean warned him that a registration hold had been placed on Zale because he had failed to write the essay. Zale could be subject to further sanctions, the letter says, if he didn’t complete the assignment.
Zale refused to write the essay “because that sanction was imposed in violation of his right to procedural due process of law,” his lawsuit says.
Messages left for Zale were not returned. A college spokeswoman said the school does not comment on pending litigation.
Tribune news services contributed.