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High school drama

September 4, 2023

Competition is fierce in high school these days. Parents are fierce too.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

It’s been a long time since I was in high school, so maybe I don’t remember it being all that stressful. Or maybe I wasn’t paying attention in high school — that seems more likely.

These days, though, there are definitely some stressed-out teenagers in school — and their parents aren’t helping. I’ve seen examples.

A recent ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit begins with this:

“Youth sports are as much about instilling life lessons as they are winning and losing. Child athletes can be forgiven for occasionally losing sight of this bigger picture. But we expect more from their parents.”

We do? Do we really?

Do you want to guess what this case — McElhaney v. Williams — was about?

Consider that this dispute made it all the way up to the appeals court, which sent it back down to the trial court for further proceedings. Something serious must have happened, right?

You know I’m going to say it didn’t.

The father of a high school girl softball player sued because he got banned from attending the team’s games for a week after he sent messages to the team’s coach complaining that his daughter wasn’t getting enough playing time.

Imagine how thrilled the daughter must be about this.

If you think that’s weird, allow me to direct you to a New York federal judge’s 33-page ruling last week in Stridiron v. Newburgh Enlarged City School District that describes a tight, hard-fought battle to become class valedictorian.

It goes on and on. My favorite part is the student complaining about his grade in “Walking for Wellness” and getting it changed after meeting with the chair of the Department of Movement Science.

Do you get a good grade if you don’t fall down?

In case you’re wondering, one of the things the student (and/or his dad) complained about was that the kid got named co-valedictorian instead of sole valedictorian.

No one except the kid and/or his dad seems to have cared.

My second favorite part of the ruling is a lengthy footnote that says, in part: “Matthew testified at his deposition that he saw a psychologist weekly for three months at the suggestion of his lawyers… . (H)e attributes the stress to ‘the fact that he has spent lots of time researching his case,’ not to being named co-valedictorian.”

It’s probably best not to cause your own damages.

Practice tip. If someone calls your client fat, the solution probably isn’t a lawsuit.

I mention this because a federal judge in North Carolina the other day threw out a suit by a woman who, after boarding a flight, was told through the intercom that “she would need to relocate from her seat to the back of the plane for ‘weight and balance’ reasons.”

This supposedly caused the plaintiff emotional distress because it implied that she was fat.

I do not condone fat-shaming, especially since I’m much larger than I want to be these days. The occasional rude comment, though, probably isn’t worth a lawsuit.

The court noted that the plaintiff didn’t allege any severe distress and that American Airlines and the flight attendant who made the announcement didn’t owe her a duty. There should be a duty not to make fat jokes, but apparently there isn’t. At least not in North Carolina.

The advice to the client should have been to go on the internet and embarrass American Airlines.

“American Airlines planes are so unbalanced that … .”

Symbolism. A federal judge in D.C. has ruled that emojis have meanings.

You may have thought that ruling on the meaningfulness of emojis shouldn’t be necessary but, according to the ruling, a lawyer or lawyers for an investor named Ryan Cohen claimed “that emojis can never be actionable because they have no defined meaning.”

Eggplant emoji users might be surprised by this.

The court didn’t buy the argument. Symbols have meanings — and you should ignore them if they’re telling you to invest.

Categories / Law, Op-Ed

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