Recently, a federal judge has approved that the former Virginia Tech women’s soccer player who refused to kneel during the national anthem can go to trial with her against her former coach after being benched and pressured to leave the team.
Kiersten Hening sued coach Charles “Chugger” Adair on the grounds of First Amendment violations. At the peak of the Black Lives Matter protest Hening was taken from her starting midfielder/defender after three years on the team.
On December 2nd federal Judge Thomas Cullen announced this case can go to trial. Hening alleged that the coach disagreed with her political views and she explained her differences from her teammates on social justice issues.
Hening clarified her political views in the lawsuit saying she “supports social justice and believes that black lives matter,” she “does not support BLM the organization,” citing its “tactics and core tenets of its mission statement, including defunding the police.”
According to the suit, the team badgered their teammate and “verbally attacked” Hening at halftime of a game. The coach continued to berate Hening until he benched her and ultimately made things so intolerable that she felt compelled to quit the team.
“Hening, who had been a major on-field contributor for two years prior to the 2020 season, also asserts that Adair removed her from the starting lineup for the next two games and drastically reduced her playing time in those games because she had engaged in this protected First Amendment activity. As a result, Hening resigned from the team after the third game of the season,” Judge Cullen noted in his ruling.
This playing time restriction was further explained by the judge who said, “As a freshman, Hening averaged 76 minutes of playing time; as a sophomore, nearly 88,” Cullen wrote. “But during the Clemson game [the next game after the kneeling incident], Hening only played 29 minutes, and, at the UNC game, just 5.”
“Ultimately, Adair may convince a jury that this coaching decision was based solely on Hening’s poor play during the UVA game, but the court, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Hening, cannot reach that conclusion as a matter of law,” ruled Cullen.
“While the US Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit may not have addressed the novel factual circumstances presented here—i.e., a college coach allegedly retaliating against a player for refusing to kneel with her coaches and teammates in support of perceived unity and social justice—the core constitutional principle is both clearly established and fundamental to a free society, and especially to an institution of higher education,” Cullen concluded.
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