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School Settles Lawsuit Over Outing Student

Kilgore Intermediate School District in — where else? — Texas has settled a lawsuit filed against it after a pair of softball coaches outed one of their players to her mother. The mother was supportive and filed multiple complaints against the school for its invasion of privacy.

Kilgore ISD officials agreed Friday to pay $77,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by a lesbian student who said her coaches outed her to her mother.

The decision came less than two weeks before a scheduled trial and one week after the district’s board of trustees met to discuss the litigation but made no formal decision…

According to the lawsuit, on March 2, 2009, an unscheduled, off-campus softball practice was called. When Skye Wyatt, then 16, arrived at the field, then-Kilgore ISD softball coaches Rhonda Fletcher and Cassandra Newell dismissed the rest of the team.

The coaches called Wyatt into an empty locker room, locked the door and accused her of having a sexual relationship with another girl and of being a lesbian, according to the lawsuit. At the time of the confrontation, Wyatt and the other girl were dating, the lawsuit states.

Wyatt denied the accusations, and the coaches threatened to sue her for slander, told her she could not play in the softball game and said they were going to tell her mother she was involved with another girl, according to the lawsuit.

The coaches called Barbara Wyatt and asked her to meet them at the field, which she did 40 minutes later, and was told her daughter was homosexual, according to the lawsuit.

The school has backed the coaches consistently and continues to do so:

In an statement released Friday, Kilgore’s board stood by its employees and claimed the settlement was a business decision of the district’s insurance.

“The Kilgore ISD board believes that the actions of its employees were in all things lawful. The Kilgore ISD board believes that the pre-existing policies of the district were much more than adequate, and the board policies in existence at the time will continue to remain in full force and effect. No policies are going to be withdrawn, changed or modified. No new policies are going to be adopted. The plaintiff’s counsel in this case attempted to bully the board into changing its policies by threatening long, expensive and protracted litigation. The Kilgore ISD Board refused,” the statement said.

“The Kilgore ISD Board of Trustees has no power to oppose the payment of settlement funds in this case, that matter being solely within the discretion of the insurance carrier. It is a business decision of the insurance company, and the settlement is much less expensive than what the insurance carrier would spend in this case in attorney fees and costs through trial, appeal by the plaintiff to the Fifth Circuit and appeal by the Plaintiff to the United States Supreme Court,” the district said.

I would not have settled the suit under these circumstances if I were the plaintiffs. The school has learned nothing from it and they would likely have won the suit and gotten an injunction.

Comments

  1. doublereed says

    What? How could they literally not change anything of their policies? Do they intend on just losing increments of $80,000 every now and then? That’s just idiotic.

    And they accused the plaintiff of bullying??? After what the coaches actually did to the student???

  2. D. C. Sessions says

    How did this “threatened to sue the student for slander” work? Just what slanderous things did she say about them (bearing in mind the normal terms students apply to teachers!)

  3. =8)-DX says

    I would not have settled the suit under these circumstances if I were the plaintiffs.

    Um… I know prices and standards of living are a little different in the US, but if I were the plaintiffs, I’d consider $77,500 going towards education and a start in life for a young LGBT person a pretty good deal. You could buy a comfy flat for that money here….

  4. Artor says

    If I were the school’s insurance carrier, I’d drop them like a hot rock, since they essentially declared that they are inviting more expensive lawsuits or settlements. My bet is another lawsuit against the school in 5 years or less.

  5. says

    The coaches called Wyatt into an empty locker room, locked the door

    and

    Wyatt denied the accusations, and the coaches threatened to sue her for slander, told her she could not play in the softball game and said they were going to tell her mother she was involved with another girl, according to the lawsuit.

    Sounds downright abusive. And slander? Am I missing something here? I only skimmed the original article, but I’m interested in the context of that.

  6. Drew says

    While I think the coaches are assholes, I don’t see that anything they did in telling the mother is illegal.

    Now I could see there being an issue if they actually did remove the student from the team for gay, but per the text above it doesn’t appear that this is what the lawsuit was about.

    A lot of this, I’m certain, has to do with my own ignorance of the law.

    I certainly view their behaviors as wrong and I question their fitness as teachers, I just don’t see a legally actionable event.

    @ DC

    How did this “threatened to sue the student for slander” work?

    Obviously a scare tactic to try to cow her into submission. But the only thing I can think is that they’re claiming that by denying the claim she’s calling them liars?

  7. dingojack says

    =8)-DX – where exactly are you? Here, $77,500 would be a deposit on a modest one bedroom flat at best.
    @ that price, I wanna move.
    Dingo
    ——–
    Kiama is the cheapest one bedroom I could find: AUD $300,000 (USD $269.340 or GBP ₤161,700)

  8. eamick says

    Obviously a scare tactic to try to cow her into submission. But the only thing I can think is that they’re claiming that by denying the claim she’s calling them liars?

    If so, they’re even bigger idiots than they appear. Slander requires another party to hear the statement, and their own actions made sure that couldn’t happen.

  9. raven says

    If I were the school’s insurance carrier, I’d drop them like a hot rock, since they essentially declared that they are inviting more expensive lawsuits or settlements.

    Or raise their rates.

    They’ve proven themselves to be clueless and not very bright. That should increase their risk scores.

    The coaches called Wyatt into an empty locker room, locked the door and accused her of having a sexual relationship with another girl and of being a lesbian,…

    It must be good old fundie xianity again. Several adults locking a child in a room and terrorizing her at school. What business is it of theirs who she dates and what sex they are?

  10. eric says

    Artor @7;

    If I were the school’s insurance carrier, I’d drop them like a hot rock, since they essentially declared that they are inviting more expensive lawsuits or settlements.

    My first thought was that the ISD ‘doth protest too much.’ How emphatically do you really need to be about nothing changing, if nothing really is changing? Not this much.

    Your comment kinda supports that. If their carrier is staying with them, that probably indicates that they had a long private talk with the district and the district agreed to make changes…under the public radar. My guess is that everyone involved (insurance carrier, family, and distrct) is perfectly happy to let the district publicly declare victory so long as incidents like this never happen again.

  11. says

    “I would not have settled the suit under these circumstances if I were the plaintiffs.”

    IANAL, but I beleive the problem here is that if they decided to go ahead with the suit instead of settling, and then eventually won, but their damages award was less than or equal to the settlement offer, then they’d be liable for all the defendent’s costs since the offer to settle.

  12. says

    =8)-DX (#4) -

    Um… I know prices and standards of living are a little different in the US, but if I were the plaintiffs, I’d consider $77,500 going towards education and a start in life for a young LGBT person a pretty good deal.

    That’s what I was thinking. It’s not a huge amount, but it’s enough to pay four years’ tuition at some small colleges, and even for living expenses too.

    It would be sweet revenge for the teen to use that money and get a BA or BSc, then come back and throw it in their faces. “Thanks for the free college degree, chumps!”

  13. ddowdle says

    This whole article and opinion piece confuses me.
    1. What standing does the mother have to bring a “right to privacy” suit against the school? Her right to privacy was not violated.(unless her “right” to not know what her daughter is doing)
    2. Since when does a high school student have a right to privacy from their parent?
    3. The lawsuit is stated as saying the girls were “dating” – that sounds pretty public on its face.
    4. Had a/some coach(s) /teacher(s)/parent(s),whoever(s) told the mom they saw her daughter engaging in X activity – Is that an invasion of privacy? If so , i would like to start suing everyone who ever tattled on me for anything! At $75k per incidence i could do all right.
    5. Had this been a straight person, is there some situation where being tattled on would be “outing” the straighty? I suppose my position being that if it is not a big deal to tell someone’s parent that their kid may be straight, then why if i want equal rights should being gay be a secret by default?

  14. D. C. Sessions says

    It’s not a huge amount, but it’s enough to pay four years’ tuition at some small colleges, and even for living expenses too.

    NMT is quite a good school (for some subjects, at least — physics and CS being two) and $80K would pretty much pay for four years there — at out-of-State rates, no less. And getting residency for purposes of tuition isn’t hard after the first year.

  15. Chiroptera says

    ddowdle, #19:

    1. The student’s right to privacy was violated. But minors themselves don’t have direct access to the courts. The either need a guardian to act on their behalf or they need an advocate assigned to them to act on their behalf.

    2. The high school student has a right to privacy against the school. The school and its agents had no business looking into who the student was dating and making a judgement about it. We’re not talking about activities that were disruptive to the learning environment or a danger to other students; we’re talking about school officials butting into someone’s private life.

    3 & 4. We’re not talking about a private individual busy body who just happened to be the softball coach seeing the mother in the grocery store and taking her aside to inform her of something she might need to know. We are talking about school officials/teachers/staff acting in their official capacities (or what they thought were their official capacities) to butt into something that is none of their business and to inject their views into someone else’s personal family business.

    5. Of course if we were in some fantasy planet where being outed as straight would subject that person to abuse and/or violence, then outing them would be just as reprehensible.

  16. raven says

    5. Had this been a straight person, is there some situation where being tattled on would be “outing” the straighty? I suppose my position being that if it is not a big deal to tell someone’s parent that their kid may be straight, then why if i want equal rights should being gay be a secret by default?

    How often do adult teachers lock a child in a room and terrorize them while accusing him or her of being…heterosexual?

    Never that I’ve heard. And if they did, you bet the kid and their parents would have a right to sue and sue they would. I’d be all over them with a lawyer or two myself.

    There is nothing wrong with being a..heterosexual. They are usually born that way and can’t change it even with therapy. Some of my own family members are straight including mom and dad.

    You are committing the fallacy of false equivalence.

  17. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    1. What standing does the mother have to bring a “right to privacy” suit against the school? Her right to privacy was not violated.(unless her “right” to not know what her daughter is doing)

    Are you fucking serious?

    2. Since when does a high school student have a right to privacy from their parent?

    Are you fucking serious?

    3. The lawsuit is stated as saying the girls were “dating” – that sounds pretty public on its face.

    Are you fucking serious?

    4. Had a/some coach(s) /teacher(s)/parent(s),whoever(s) told the mom they saw her daughter engaging in X activity – Is that an invasion of privacy? If so , i would like to start suing everyone who ever tattled on me for anything! At $75k per incidence i could do all right.

    Are you fucking serious?

    5. Had this been a straight person, is there some situation where being tattled on would be “outing” the straighty? I suppose my position being that if it is not a big deal to tell someone’s parent that their kid may be straight, then why if i want equal rights should being gay be a secret by default?

    Are you fucking serious?

  18. some bastard on the net says

    5. Had this been a straight person, is there some situation where being tattled on would be “outing” the straighty?

    Coach: “Ma’am, did you know your daughter is… heterosexual?!

    Mom: “Nooooooooooooooooooo!!!”

    I suppose my position being that if it is not a big deal to tell someone’s parent that their kid may be straight, then why if i want equal rights should being gay be a secret by default?

    Yeah, it’s not like gay kids have to deal with being stigmatized by their teachers and fellow students or anything.

    *cough*Read the fucking article again!*cough*

  19. jnorris says

    Kilgore ISD softball coaches Rhonda Fletcher and Cassandra Newell have an unhealthy and unprofessional interest in the sexuality and social life of a high school student. Unless the student was being bullied about her dating, it is none of the coaches business.

  20. ddowdle says

    Chiroptera, #21. Thank you.
    1. OK, i think this may be the only reasonable answer. It seems to me though, in this particular instance, the mom might have a conflict of interest, that puts her and the daughter in the position of being dishonest in order to make something from information she may have already had.
    2. I agree she has a right to privacy from the school, especially from the school. But from what i gather from the linked article, the problem seems to be “outing” her to the mom. I am not sure i see a privacy concern, when she was “dating” someone. Don’t misunderstand, i see no reason for anyone to lock the door and grill a kid for any reason, and i especially don’t see a reason for an adult(s) to be grilling a kid on their sexual orientation; but if you are openly “dating” someone – i also do not see a privacy concern. False imprisonment, some sort of threat/fear something, but not privacy.
    4. I absolutely agree it is none of their business, and it is distasteful to say the very least, but, i read here nowhere that they did not allow her to play, i didn’t read that they injected their morality into the situation, only that they were grilling for information for some bizarre unknown irrational reason.
    5. i have to go back to the “dating” – I am not sure what dating means except that it almost certainly has to be public, the moronic a**hats that are willing and capable of committing such atrocities are almost never the parental units, and even if it were, in such a case where a child is in danger from something(which you are implying this might be), the parents certainly have a right to know.

    raven, #22 – I might be, but not sure how. My only assumption is that people = people. People have rights, not gay people, not white people, not black people, just people.

    some bastard on the net, #25 – While i find the methodology of berating this kid appalling, i am not certain the methodology was a violation of privacy rights. And the article doesn’t say to what end she was being grilled, it could be the coaches were gay as well and wanted to start a club-it doesn’t say.

  21. Chris from Europe says

    I might be, but not sure how. My only assumption is that people = people. People have rights, not gay people, not white people, not black people, just people.

    Come on, this is so old. Yes, pretend that as all people are supposed to be treated as equals, we can ignore that they are not. This is the argument of the people who want to get rid of protections for minorities, not because they believe in equality, but because they believe in putting minority people in their place, e. g. not in university.

    It’s the same old story, whether in the South or in Michigan or anywhere in the world.

  22. Chiroptera says

    ddowdle, #27: … I am not sure what dating means….

    The only thing that you need to know is that it means that whatever the coaches (or other officials of the school) suspected was happening was none of their business and so the intrusion into the student’s personal affairs was completely inappropriate.

  23. sezme says

    You guys who think she will get $77K have another think coming. After the lawyers vig and costs, she’ll be lucky to get $50K

  24. some bastard on the net says

    ddowdle #27

    While i find the methodology of berating this kid appalling, i am not certain the methodology was a violation of privacy rights. And the article doesn’t say to what end she was being grilled, it could be the coaches were gay as well and wanted to start a club-it doesn’t say.

    *blink*
    *blink*
    *blink*

    The coaches called Wyatt into an empty locker room, locked the door and accused her of having a sexual relationship with another girl and of being a lesbian, according to the lawsuit. At the time of the confrontation, Wyatt and the other girl were dating, the lawsuit states.
    Wyatt denied the accusations, and the coaches threatened to sue her for slander, told her she could not play in the softball game and said they were going to tell her mother she was involved with another girl, according to the lawsuit.

    I’m fairly certain that wasn’t followed with, “Wanna start a GSA Club?”

    Wow, I’ve seen some frantic reaching, but you must have set some kind of record with your comment.

  25. areyouashoggoth says

    Ddowdle, I have to ask: are you really as clueless as your comments suggest or are you just pretending?
    The coaches were deliberately setting up a situation that exposed the student to danger and possible harm. Okay, the article doesn’t come right out and say this in big flaming neon capital letters (like you seem to need), but extrapolating from their behavior and words the most probable explanation for their actions is that they were hoping that her mother would be homophobic and would then put the student into a serious world of hurt. Fortunately for the student, that did not happen and the tables got turned on them as the mother stood up and protected her daughter. I don’t know if you really don’t understand this or are just pretending, but this situation could very easily have turned out VERY VERY BADLY for the student if her mother as indeed homophobic. In the United States, parents have the freedom to do quite a lot of very bad things to their children and get away with it. She could have been thrown out of her home, sent off to a christian reeducation camp, forced into reparative therapy, beaten up, set up for ‘corrective rape’, or maybe just in general had her life turned into a living hell until she finally turned the magical age of 18 and could escape. These are the realities of being an underage gay person.

    And before you say so, yes, some of those potentially horrible things are illegal. So what? Doesn’t mean they won’t happen, and doesn’t mean that a homophobic parent won’t get away with it anyway, or at least try to.Especially in a state like Texas.

    Finally, about the ‘publlc nature of dating’: what kind of a world do you live in? Do you not know anybody that has ever dated without their parents’ knowledge?

  26. doublereed says

    Ddowdle, do you really not see the extortion involved with “I’m going to out you to your parents if you don’t leave the softball game?”

    And yes, extortion is a privacy issue. If the coach was threatening to expose an affair or something, would you consider it differently? I mean ffs, what if she got disowned from her parents for being homosexual. You know that happens, right?

    I can’t imagine you’re really this stupid. There must be something else going on here.

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