School on the Hook for Outing Teen as Lesbian
TYLER, Texas (CN) - Two East Texas softball coaches and their school district still face civil rights claims for allegedly telling one mother her daughter is gay.
Barbara Wyatt sued the Kilgore Independent School District and two coaches from Kilgore High School last year. The complaint says coaches Rhonda Fletcher and Cassandra Newell aggressively confronted her 16-year-old daughter, S.W., about an alleged love triangle. The coaches allegedly said S.W. was involved with an older woman named Hillary Nutt and had told others that Nutt and Newell had also dated.
Though S.W. had never told her mother she was a lesbian, the coaches confronted Wyatt about the teenager's alleged relationship, according to the complaint.
Wyatt says she made multiple complaints in defense of her daughter's right to privacy, but the school district backed the coaches' actions, saying "they were 'legally obligated to share this information with the parent.'"
The district and coaches moved for summary judgment, but U.S. Magistrate Judge John Love refused, citing "multiple unresolved questions of fact."
The Nov. 30 order reveals the stark contrast between the defendants' version of events and Wyatt's allegations.
"On March 3, 2009, the coaches became aware of a rumor created by a note written by S.W. that claimed S.W. was dating Ms. Nutt, a person S.W. claimed to be Coach Newell's ex-girlfriend," Love wrote, citing the defendants' testimony. "When the Coaches heard the rumor, they took it upon themselves to confront S.W. for three reasons: (1) they believed that Ms. Nutt was a bad influence on S.W. because Ms. Nutt had previously talked about drinking and smoking marijuana; (2) they believed the fact that Ms. Nutt was eighteen-years-old and S.W. was sixteen 'made any physical relationship between them a potential crime;' and (3) the rumors were 'causing dissension on the softball team.'"
The defendants say they spoke to Wyatt about her daughter's alleged relationship out of concern for S.W.'s age, rather than her sexual orientation.
"As an initial matter, defendants argue in various places throughout their briefing that S.W. could not have had a reasonable expectation of privacy in her sexual orientation because either Ms. Wyatt already knew S.W. was homosexual or S.W. was openly gay in school," Love wrote.
"Whether S.W. was openly gay or whether Ms. Wyatt knew she was homosexual prior to the March 3 incident is a question of fact requiring credibility determinations that are best left to the trier of fact," the 23-page decision continues.
Though the coaches may have had some reason to divulge information that superseded the student's interest in keeping her sexual orientation private, there is not enough to make any conclusion at this stage, the judge added.
"Based on the record before the court, the court cannot conclude as a matter of law that Coaches Newell and Fletcher had a legitimate interest in revealing S.W.'s sexual orientation to her mother that outweighed S.W.'s privacy interest in keeping that information confidential," Love wrote.