Skye Wyatt filed a lawsuit back in 2010 against the Kilgore Independent School District and two softball coaches, alleging that the coaches forced her in 2009 to admit she is gay and then told her mother without her consent. Wyatt also alleged that the coaches kicked her off the high school softball team, harming her opportunities for college scholarships.
Shortly before a trial set for March 3, Wyatt agreed to a settlement with the KISD and the coaches.
“What our client wanted is that this would not happen to anybody else,” said Jennifer Doan, who represented Wyatt pro bono.
“The only reason this case settled is that the insurance carrier did not want to spend another five years and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for this case to go back to the Fifth Circuit,” said Robert Davis, who defended the KISD and coaches Rhonda Fletcher and Cassandra Newell.
In a Nov. 30, 2011, Memorandum Opinion and Order Denying Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Magistrate Judge John Love wrote that in the “Defendants’ Version of the Facts,” the defendants alleged that the coaches spoke with Skye Wyatt’s mother because they believed the woman Skye Wyatt was allegedly dating was a “bad influence”; the fact the woman was an adult “made any physical relationship between them a potential crime”; and rumors about the relationship were causing “dissention” on the softball team.
In a written statement, the KISD board said the actions of its employees were lawful.
“KISD Board believes that the pre-existing policies of the District were much more than adequate, and the Board Policies in existence at the time will continue to remain in full force and effect. No policies are going to be withdrawn, changed or modified. No new policies are going to be adopted. The Plaintiff’s counsel in this case attempted to bully the Board into changing its policies by threatening long, expensive and protracted litigation. The KISD Board refused,” the board wrote in a statement that Davis provided.
The KISD board said the actions of the two coaches were “entirely appropriate,” and the claims that they violated the U.S. Constitution were “thrown out” by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
In an opinion in 2013, the Fifth Circuit dismissed a federal claim against the coaches on the basis of qualified immunity.
The board also noted in the statement that it has “no power” to oppose the monetary settlement, which is at the discretion of the district’s insurance carrier.
According to a signed and notarized copy of the settlement provided by Doan, the settlement pays $77,500 to Wyatt and the Texas Civil Rights Project. Wayne Krause Yang, legal director of the TCRP, and Paula Hinton, a partner in Winston & Strawn in Houston, represented Wyatt with Doan in the litigation, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
The settlement also calls for the school district to “maintain its professional ethical” policies that, in part, prohibit discrimination against students based on sexual orientation and bar educators from revealing confidential information about students unless required by law. The settlement agreement also calls for a 30-minute live training session in 2014 for all KISD employees on the policies, including but not limited to sexual orientation and privacy, and it requires inclusion of the policies and the law in handbooks distributed to students, parents and employees.
Doan said Wyatt is pleased with the settlement because her primary objective was making sure that the school district followed policies relating to privacy and discrimination against students on the basis of their sexual orientation.
In her third amended complaint in Skye Wyatt v. Kilgore Independent School District, Wyatt alleged that on March 3, 2009, when she was 16, her softball coaches, Fletcher and Newell, took her into an empty locker room before a softball game, locked the door and demanded to know if she was dating a woman. She alleged that she denied the allegations, but the coaches told her she “couldn’t play in the softball game that night until they told her mother that she was dating a girl.”
Wyatt alleged that, “unable to withstand the sustained threats, accusations, and reprimands,” she eventually said she was dating the woman—even though she wasn’t—and the coaches called her mother to the field and told her that “her daughter was dating a girl.”
“That evening and without further discussion, KISD Coaches Fletcher and Newell kicked Miss Wyatt off the softball team, placing her future potential scholarships and educational opportunities in jeopardy,” Wyatt alleged in the complaint.
Davis did not respond to requests for interviews with Fletcher and Newell. He said Newell no longer works for the KISD.
In her third amended complaint, Wyatt brought a cause of action against the KISD alleging violation of her federal constitutional right to privacy, and she brought causes of action against the KISD and the coaches alleging violations of the Texas fundamental right of privacy and invasion of privacy.
Among types of relief, Wyatt sought a declaratory judgment that “Defendants locked Skye Wyatt into a room, [and] forced her to disclose private information about her most intimate matters without permission or any legitimate state interest.”
In an answer to the third amended complaint, filed on Feb. 12, the defendants largely denied the allegations. They admitted the school district took no disciplinary action against the coaches, and admitted “that no policies, customs or practices were violated by the actual conduct of Coaches Newell and Fletcher.” In part, they also denied that they forced Wyatt to disclose her sexual orientation, and they asserted Wyatt’s “alleged damages were caused solely and proximately by the Plaintiff’s own actions in that she informed people that she was gay, openly acknowledged her own sexual orientation and had specifically told her mother of her romantic interest in other females in the past.”
Hinton, who started working on the litigation last October at the request of the TCRP and who recruited Doan to the team, said it was a “very acrimonious, difficult case.”