Cheerleader Told To Pay School She Sued After Being Kicked Off Squad For Refusing To Cheer Guy Who Assaulted Her

from the free-speech? dept

I'd been aware of an important (but unfortunate) free speech lawsuit involving a cheerleader who refused to cheer for a fellow student who had sexually assaulted her. The girl claimed that the boy had raped her when she was 16. The boy was arrested, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault, and was given various punishments (community service, a fine, probation and an anger management class), but was also allowed back on the basketball team. The girl remained on the cheerleading squad, but then refused to cheer for the boy. This being Texas, where they take high school sports significantly more seriously than much of the rest of the world, the superintendent of the school ordered her to leave the gym, and when she explained her reasons, she was expelled from the cheerleading squad. She then sued the school, claiming it was a violation of her First Amendment rights. The lower courts ruled against her, saying that being a cheerleader means accepting that you're a "mouthpiece" for the school, and thus are required to cheer for whomever the school says you should cheer for. Not only that, but adding insult to injury, the courts said that the lawsuit itself was frivolous and the girl had to pay the school $45,000. The reason the case is getting attention now is that the Supreme Court has declined to hear her appeal, meaning that her case is done, and she has to pay up.

We cover so many First Amendment cases around here, and this one deserves extra attention, because it seems troubling on a variety of levels. The idea that a student gives up their First Amendment rights by joining a particular activity seems like a very worrisome interpretation of the First Amendment. While it may be true that there are specific requirements to being a cheerleader, it seems that there are certainly ways that a school can handle this that doesn't result in punitive response for her (quite reasonable) unwillingness to cheer for this guy. But the frivolous claim is what really surprises me. As we've seen in various ridiculous cases we cover, it's really difficult to get a case declared frivolous and get legal fees. Even on lots of the copyright troll cases, winning legal fees is nearly impossible. It seems pretty crazy that this girl now has to pay up for her lawsuit here.

Filed Under: cheerleading, free speech


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 May 2011 @ 4:22pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Wacked Mess

    I don't think anyone is missing the point, but if she were to win the lawsuit, it could create a very bad precedent for far more frivolous reasons.

    I completely agree, she should not been required to pay any of the legal fees. But what if an actor refuses to say a certain line required of them or if an actor insists on saying something in a movie that the movie makers don't want included. Should the actor then be able to use the law get his way and maintain his acting position?

    OK, so it's just one line that the actor refuses to say for reason X. The contract is not as important as free speech. But then what about if the actor wants to substantially limit what he says in the movie? What if he decides to eventually say almost nothing and he keeps on coming up with small reasons and claims "free speech, free speech".

    It's a very slippery slope. What constitutes a valid reason to refuse to do something that you knew would be required of you ahead of time and then to use the law to still maintain your position.

    I agree, she did nothing wrong by refusing to cheer him on. That's her right. But she knew ahead of time what her role as a cheerleader was. For her to then sue and win would be ridiculous. The school has a say in who they select as a cheerleader, they are not obligated to select her, and, as part of their 'free speech' they can choose to select someone else. I completely agree, she should not have had to pay those damages, but I also think we should be careful about what kind of precedent it might create if she were allowed to win the case.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.