Sunday, October 16, 2011

Florida High School Reinstates Coach After Retaliation

In June, school officials at Jensen Beach High School in Martin County, Florida, terminated girls' lacrosse coach Michele Ruth, who had advocated for her team's access to the district's best athletic facility, the stadium built for the football team, but which is otherwise used during the spring lacrosse season. This week it was reported that the school district agreed to a settlement with Ruth to keep her from filing a lawsuit. As part of the settlement, Ruth is reinstated to her coaching position, and the girls lacrosse team will have their home games in the stadium. The settlement agreement (available here) also provides that the district will reimburse Ruth's attorneys, including Linda Correia and the law firm Public Justice.

Reportedly, the district had claimed that it terminated Ruth for coaching without shoes, in violation of a school policy necessitated by the dangerous condition of the field used for lacrosse, due to the presence of "glass and nails and snakes." Two problems with this explanation probably influenced the district's decision to settle rather than face a jury: first, the coach's shoes only became an issue after she raised the Title IX implications of the athletic director's decision to exclude the lacrosse team from the stadium, and thus appear to be pretextual. Second, the unsafe conditions of the field, which the district would have to emphasize as part of its defense, not only underscore Ruth's request to play in the stadium, but raise separate questions of liability, including under Title IX.

One local columnist is calling Ruth a role model to her students for having the "courage and conviction to stand her ground."