(CN) – A Texas cheerleader who sued for gender discrimination and retaliation after she didn’t make the varsity squad does not have a federal case, or any case, the 5th Circuit ruled.
Samantha Sanches attended Creekview High School in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District from 2005 to 2009.
She claims that during her junior year in 2008 she was sexually harassed by J.H., who was a senior and female cheerleader at the school. The two allegedly fought over Facebook photos and a boy.
When J.H. learned that her ex-boyfriend was dating Sanches, the senior “walked into the sixth period class she shared with Sanches, J.H. said loudly to her friends that she was in the presence of a ‘ho’ and ‘would beat her ass if it weren’t for cheerleading,'” according to the 5th Circuit’s summary of the case.
Sanches’ mother, Liz Lanningham became concerned that the school’s senior cheerleaders would try to disadvantage her daughter in cheerleader tryouts, and had her lawyer write a six-page letter outlining her issues to the school’s superintendent.
The letter complained that the school favored three senior cheerleaders over Sanches, and asked the school to let Sanches skip tryouts and be automatically placed on the varsity squad.
But the school district refused, saying tryouts were fair, impartial and governed by unbiased judges not affiliated with the school scored participants. It ultimately changed the tryout format by setting up a week-long clinic where prospective teammates learned routines from seniors and coaches.
When Sanches did not make the squad, Lanningham escalated her complaints against J.H. The mother sent three e-mails to the school’s principal complaining that J.H. had started a rumor about Sanches having a hickey on her boob, that J.H. had cornered Sanches and told her she was having sex with her boyfriend, and that she physically touched Sanches by wiping a tear from her daughter’s eye. She also pointed out that J.H. had slapped Sanches’ boyfriend’s butt as she walked by the couple.
The principal investigated all three complaints and decided not to take action.
Still upset with her daughter not making the cheerleading squad, Lanningham then filed a 10-page grievance with the district that mentioned the hickey incident and hallway incident. She said these events stressed her daughter out and put her at an unfair disadvantage for making the team.
When the district refused to place Sanches on the cheerleading team, Lanningham appealed that decision and the district denied it. So Lanningham appealed the denial to the district’s board of trustees, but was unsuccessful.
Sanches sued the school district in September 2008, claiming it had violated Title IX because it had been deliberately indifferent to her alleged harassment. She also claimed the district had violated the equal protection clause by engaging in a policy that led others to sexually harass her. She further claimed the district retaliated against her in violation of Title IX and the equal protection clause for complaining about the harassment.
A magistrate judge granted the school district summary judgment on the harassment claims, and issued an amended opinion and order that also granted the district summary judgment on Sanches’ retaliation claims.
After a federal judge declined to vacate the magistrate judge’s opinion and order, Sanches appealed that decision and the entire summary judgment on all four claims.
But the New Orleans-based federal appeals court proved unsympathetic.
“We emphatically decline to say that the district’s decision not to place Sanches on the cheerleading squad – the very source of her troubles – constitutes deliberate indifference to any harassment,” Judge Jerry Smith wrote for a three-judge panel.
While JH’s actions may have been immature and inappropriate they do not meet the standard of severe, pervasive and objectively unreasonable harassment required under Sanches’ Title IX claim, Smith wrote.
“JH was acting like a typical high-school girl whose ex-boyfriend began dating a younger cheerleader,” the 24-page decision states. “That is the sort of unpleasant conflict that takes place every day in high schools, and it is not the proper stuff of a federal harassment claim.”
Sanches also failed to show that her sexual harassment was the result of a district policy, as required to make a case for violation of the equal protection clause, the court found, adding that the record does not support Sanches’ retaliation claims.
“Reduced to its essentials, this is nothing more than a dispute, fueled by a disgruntled cheerleader mom, over whether her daughter should have made the squad. It is a petty squabble, masquerading as a civil rights matter, that has no place in federal court or any other court. We find no error and affirm,” Smith wrote.