Virginia Tech soccer player can sue over being punished for not kneeling in support of ‘social justice initiatives’

Virginia Tech soccer player can sue over being punished for not kneeling in support of ‘social justice initiatives’

A federal judge ruled that a Virginia Tech soccer player, Kiersten Hening, can sue a coach who benched Hening for standing rather than kneeling in support of “social justice initiatives” like Black Lives Matter. On January 5, the coach agreed to pay the soccer player over $100,000 in a settlement.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Cullen in Roanoke ruled last month that the lawsuit raised genuine issues of likely First Amendment violations, and thus rejected the coach’s motion for summary judgment against the lawsuit. Indeed, the “weight of the evidence” favored Hening, so much so that he also denied the coach’s motion for qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is a doctrine that protects government officials from having to pay monetary damages for violating the constitution, if it was unclear at the time they committed the constitutional violation that their action would violate the Constitution.

Hening based her lawsuit on her free-speech rights, alleging that “after she refused to kneel in support of social-justice initiatives, including Black Lives Matter (‘BLM’), prior to the team’s 2020 season opener against the University of Virginia (‘UVA’), Adair retaliated against her in violation of the First Amendment.”

After refusing to kneel, Hening’s coach allegedly scolded Hening for “b******g and moaning” and “doing her own thing.”

The benching was not because Hening was a bad player. Hening had a proven track record of being a good soccer player prior to the 2020 soccer season in which she was benched.

As Judge Cullen noted, she “started nearly 40 games prior to the UVA game, including all but three as a freshman, and typically played most of the minutes of those games.” Moreover, Hening averaged 76 minutes of playing time as a freshman and 88 minutes as a sophomore.

It was also “no secret among the players and coaching staff that Hening was an outspoken conservative and supporter of former President Donald Trump,” the judge noted.

The judge was appointed in September 2020, by President Trump, with the support of Virginia’s Democratic Senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Before being appointed to the judiciary, Cullen had clerked for liberal federal appeals court judge Roger Gregory, and conservative trial judge Robert Payne. Judge Cullen’s nomination was approved by a bipartisan 79-to-19 vote of the U.S. Senate, which often approved Trump nominees by margins of less than 5 votes.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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