On 16th November 2023, Los Angeles Unified School District settled a lawsuit brought by Marielle Williamson, a 2023 graduate, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), regarding a violation of free speech when the student was not allowed to criticise the dairy industry.
The lawsuit was filed on 3rd May 2023 against the school district and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, after Williamson, at the time a senior at Eagle Rock High School, was told she could not share literature explaining that the dairy industry harms human health, animals, and the environment, unless she provided pro-dairy content as well.
Federal law says that any school participating in USDA’s school lunch program “shall not directly or indirectly restrict the sale or marketing of fluid milk products by the school (or by a person approved by the school) at any time or any place.” The USDA interpreted that statutory language to mean that cafeteria displays, printed material, and layout may not promote beverages other than dairy milk in a way that may detract from dairy milk sales. In its lawsuit, the Physicians Committee explained that the school district unconstitutionally discriminated based on viewpoint by prohibiting Williamson from distributing information highlighting dairy’s negative impacts, while school-sanctioned dairy promotions.
Deborah Press, associate general counsel at the Physicians Committee, said, “Dairy products are bad for health, the environment, and animals, and now students are free to say so loudly and clearly. This is a huge win for free speech advocates and for critics of dairy in schools who, until today, had been silenced by the threat of censure if there was a perceived criticism of dairy products.”
Williamson said of the settlement, “I am very grateful we were able to reach an agreement with LAUSD that enshrines the free speech rights that led to challenging school policies. The changes ensure that other students who want to speak openly about dairy have the ability to do so. I’m also excited that these permanent changes will create an improved system that focuses on what is better for both student health and student voices.”