Cheerleading: Serious Business

by SSFC on December 23, 2008

Making a federal case out of petty politics in high school cheerleading:  Where else but Texas?

The mother of a former Creekview High School cheerleader has filed a federal lawsuit against Carrollton-Farmers Branch schools, arguing the district did not sufficiently discipline cheerleaders who she says bullied her daughter.

The lawsuit, brought by Liz Laningham, argues that the district discriminated against her daughter and “turned a blind eye” to the harassment. The lawsuit could result in a jury trial.

So far as I can tell from the linked story, the main element of damages appears to be that Liz Laningham’s daughter did not make the cheerleading squad in her senior year, after being a member in her junior year.  And there are the usual allegations of Facebook frippery, rumors and innuendos within the team, biased judging during senior year tryouts, etc. etc.

What I can’t tell from this Dallas Morning News story is what possible basis Liz Laningham’s lawyer could have for bringing this action in federal court.  While various civil rights acts prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, disability, etc., none of those are named as putative grounds for the suit.  As for sex and age discrimination, presumably the victim and her harassers are all young women.  Does Title IX prohibit girls from being girls?

And does any girl, no matter how spoiled and entitled her mother has made her, have a right to lead cheers?

{ 5 comments }

1 Commentor 12.23.08 at 9:37 am

The only cause of action that comes to mind is negligent infliction of emotional distress. Assuming all of the girls are residents of the school district they attend, no diversity of citizenship exists.

2 thufir_hawat 12.23.08 at 10:51 am

The Complaint has three claims (i) Title IX – gender discrimination, female on female bullying (sexually based rumors and threats of violence, sexual intimidation), (ii) 14th amendment (denied an equal opportunity to tryout for the squad), (iii) 1983 (discrimination did not serve an important governmental goal).

Claims of same-sex sexual harassment are actionable actionable in under Title VII (so says Justice Scalia in Oncale, a case on appeal out of the 5th Circuit: “Because of the many facets of human motivation, it would be unwise to presume as a matter of law that human beings of one definable group will not discriminate against other members of their group.”).

I suspect the Plaintiff will not make all the elements (where the allegation involves sexual harassment by a member of the same sex, the Plaintiff must also prove that the conduct at issue was not merely tinged with offensive sexual connotations, but actually constituted discrimination because of sex), but the claims pass Rule 11 scrutiny.

More troubling is both parents bringing suit as next friend. You cause a lawsuit to be filed like this that names your daughter, details and describes her serial boyfriends and failures on the squad, and avers that she is now seeking psychiatric help. Next friend indeed.

It is a real shame.

3 Hans Bader 12.23.08 at 12:26 pm

Plaintiff’s claim should be dismissed based on Fifth Circuit and Texas precedents. See, e.g., Butler v. Ysleta Indep. School District (5th Cir. 1998).

Contrary to what plaintiffs’ lawyers and some misguided federal judges believe, you have to show that “sexual” harassment was “based on” sex to prevail under federal antidiscrimination laws like Title VII and Title IX, according to the Supreme Court’s Oncale decision.

Title IX requires a showing that vulgarity occurred because of the plaintiff’s gender. See Gallant v. Bd. of Trustees (N.D. Cal. 1998).

Sexual rumours are not sexual harassment for purposes of federal law when they are not made because of the plaintiff’s sex. See Duncan v. Denver (10th Cir. 2005); Pasqua v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. (7th Cir. 1996); cf. Butler v. Ysleta Indep. Sch. Dist., supra (giving little weight to vulgar anonymous letters that were not aimed at plaintiff because of her sex).

If the plaintiff lived in a more liberal area of the country, with activist judges who ignore the statutory “based on sex” requirement, she might win. But in Texas, her claim lacks merit, and likely will be dismissed.

4 Dirk D 12.24.08 at 3:50 pm

“More troubling is both parents bringing suit as next friend. You cause a lawsuit to be filed like this that names your daughter, details and describes her serial boyfriends and failures on the squad, and avers that she is now seeking psychiatric help. Next friend indeed.

It is a real shame.”

It seem as though they woke up one morning and thought..hmmm…how can I make my daughter a bigger pariah?

5 TC 12.25.08 at 3:23 am

Can there be anything more entertaining than Barristers and bitches going at it in a court room?

Please judge, I mean please!!!! have many cameras rolling for the pending antics!

Comments on this entry are closed.