Judge tosses out antigay conversion therapy lawsuit

Photo: PennLive.com

This month, a federal judge in Harrisburg dismissed the lawsuit of Adam Dobson, a gay man who claimed he was subjected to antigay conversion therapy while at student at the Milton S. Hershey School.

The school is located in Hershey, Pennsylvania and serves 2,000 underprivileged youths from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. Students live on campus in cottages with assigned house parents. Attendance at the school is free, due to a trust established by the late chocolate magnate Milton S. Hershey and his wife Catherine in 1909.

In 2016, Dobson filed suit against the school, claiming his mental health was negatively impacted after a house parent allegedly pressured him into viewing a religious-themed anti-LGBT video.

Dobson attended the school for several years, prior to his expulsion in 2013. His lawsuit accused the school of various wrongdoing, including negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, failure to provide appropriate counseling services and breach of fiduciary duty.

In his lawsuit, Dobson alleged that a house parent pressured him to watch an hour-long antigay video that was followed by a campaign of prayer sessions and other efforts to get him to change his sexual orientation. Additionally, Dobson claimed he was told by the houseparent of “terrible things that happened to other gay people,” according to court records.

In a 24-page opinion issued May 6, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones 3d of the Middle District of Pennsylvania tossed out Dobson’s lawsuit as meritless. Jones said Dobson didn’t provide evidence that he was subjected to antigay conversion therapy. Dobson “failed to identify any basis in the record to conclude that what he characterizes as gay-conversion therapy resulted in the injuries he alleges,” Jones wrote.

The judge also said Dobson’s assertion during a deposition that he was subjected to antigay conversion therapy doesn’t mean it happened. “Plaintiff’s subjective accusation that defendants engaged in ‘gay conversion therapy’ does not make it so,” Jones wrote.

Moreover, Jones wrote, there’s no evidence that Dobson was mistreated by his house parents in any manner. “Having reviewed all of the excerpts the parties provided from Dobson’s deposition, we are unable to find a single mention that his experiences with the [house parents] caused any type of injury — emotional or otherwise. This failure is fatal to his claim.” 

The Milton Hershey School issued a statement that read, in part, “Since the beginning, we recognized Adam Dobson’s allegations for what they were: an untrue and malicious attempt to benefit financially by harming the school and individuals who cared for him. Dobson changed his claims throughout the case, and eventually dropped most of them. The remaining allegation of ‘gay conversion therapy’ was rejected on May 6. The true facts were revealed in discovery, and today the school as well as [Dobson’s house parents], were vindicated. ”

Matthew B. Weisberg, an attorney for Dobson, said his client was considering his legal options.“Unfortunately, it is this firm’s policy not to substantively comment on litigation,” Weisberg wrote, in an email. “That said, we are — and are sure our client is — just simply disappointed; notwithstanding our deepest respect for [Judge Jones]. We will be speaking with our client soon to discuss his options, including appeal.”

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.