A judge ruled that a former Virginia Tech women’s soccer player can go forward with her lawsuit against her ex-coach for allegedly punishing her after she refused to kneel during a social justice protest.
Kiersten Hening was a starting defender and midfielder for the Hokies from 2018 to 2020. As a freshman, Hening appeared in all 22 games and started in 19 of them. As a sophomore, she appeared in all 19 matches, was a starter in the last 18 contests, and had the second-most minutes played among field players, according to the Hokies women’s soccer website.
However, Hening claims that the relationship with her coach changed after she refused to participate in a social justice demonstration. Hening refused to kneel before the team’s season-opening game against the Virginia Cavaliers on Sept. 12, 2020.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported, “While her teammates knelt during the pregame reading of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s unity pledge — a show of support for the social justice movement and Black Lives Matter — Hening and one other unidentified player remained standing.”
Hening accused Hokies head coach Charles “Chugger” Adair of launching a “campaign of abuse and retaliation” after she refused to participate in the pregame social justice demonstration.
The lawsuit – which was filed in the Roanoke Division of the United States District Court’s Western District of Virginia on March 3, 2021 – alleges Adair “benched her, subjected her to repeated verbal abuse, and forced her off the team.”
The lawsuit claims, “He singled her out and verbally attacked her, pointing a finger directly in her face. He denounced Hening for ‘bitching and moaning,’ for being selfish and individualistic, and for ‘doing her own thing.'”
The lawsuit alleges that Adair’s actions violated Hening’s First Amendment rights.
Federal Judge Thomas Cullen ruled on Dec. 2 that the case can proceed to trial, according to Fox News. Cullen noted that Adair slashed her playing time.
“As a freshman, Hening averaged 76 minutes of playing time; as a sophomore, nearly 88,” Cullen wrote in the ruling. “But during the Clemson game [the next game after the kneeling incident], Hening only played 29 minutes, and, at the UNC game, just 5.”
“Ultimately, Adair may convince a jury that this coaching decision was based solely on Hening’s poor play during the UVA game, but the court, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Hening, cannot reach that conclusion as a matter of law,” Cullen stated.
Hening resigned from the team after the third game of the season.
Adair claims that two other players refused to kneel and they did not have reduced playing time.
“While the U.S. Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit may not have addressed the novel factual circumstances presented here—i.e., a college coach allegedly retaliating against a player for refusing to kneel with her coaches and teammates in support of perceived unity and social justice—the core constitutional principle is both clearly established and fundamental to a free society, and especially to an institution of higher education,” Cullen wrote.
The lawsuit stated that Hening “supports social justice and believes that black lives matter,” but she “does not support BLM the organization,” because of its “tactics and core tenets of its mission statement, including defunding the police.”
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