Cheerleader Sues High School for Cruel Harassment

ALBUQUERQUE (CN) — A cheerleader claims in a lawsuit against her high school that administrators wouldn’t let her transfer schools unless she promised not to sue after her teammates took nude pictures of her in a shower, passed them around and posted them on SnapChat.

Represented by guardian ad litem Rachel Higgins, B.P. says she was 15 when the varsity cheer squad at West Mesa High School in Albuquerque took a trip to a cheerleading camp in Phoenix.

B.P. says her teammates used the J.V. coach’s cellphone to take photos and video of her in the shower without her consent, even jerking the shower curtain out her hands to take video. They showed the video to at least seven teammates and posted it on SnapChat, Higgins says in the Jan. 16 complaint in Bernalillo County Court.

The mean girls exacerbated their “criminal conduct” with taunts and harassment, such as “‘who would want to have sex with her’ and ‘her body ain’t shit,’” according to the complaint.

B.P. says she reported the incident to lead defendant Brittny Saavedra, the cheerleading coach, who called it “no big deal,” and told her “that she needed to apologize to her teammates for overreacting to a joke.”

Saavedra said she wouldn’t punish the other cheerleaders because it would “ruin the trip for everybody,” according to the complaint.

When B.P. tried to speak to hotel security, coaches intervened to prevent it, and when she told her parents what had happened and they called the Phoenix Police Department, the coaches refused to cooperate, claiming there was no video and refusing to return phone calls, B.P. says in the complaint.

After returning to Albuquerque, B.P. says, her teammates and coaches harassed her; her coaches called her a “baby” and told her to “get over it.” She says she was demoted, excluded from team activities, and finally quit the team because of the harassment.

Despite her parents’ repeated attempts to resolve the matter with the defendant Albuquerque Public Schools District, only one girl involved in the photographing and harassment was disciplined, and she was allowed to remain on the varsity cheerleading squad, B.P. says.

Because she no longer felt safe at school, B.P. and her younger brother asked to be transferred to another high school in the district. But the school district told them they could not transfer unless her parents signed a release of liability from the nude photos incident, the complaint states.

It cites an email from defendant APS Executive Director of Compliance for Special Education Cynthia Soo Hoo, which states in part: “(T)he District is willing to facilitate a transfer of [B.P.] ahead of other students if we can put any and all disputes behind us. Attached is the settlement agreement necessary for an approved transfer to Albuquerque High School.”

When the family refused to sign the release, B.P. says, her transfer was delayed for months, and approved only after the family filed a petition for a temporary restraining order.

Defendants include West Mesa Principal Mark A. Garcia and assistant principal Deborah Gartman, the school’s Athletic Director Shonn Schroer, the head and assistant cheerleading coaches. B.P. seeks punitive damages for civil rights violations, including Title IX violations, retaliation, failure to protect from pervasive harassment, deprivation of a public education and emotional distress.

She is represented by Kelly Stout Sanchez with Martinez, Hart, Thompson & Sanchez.