A college soccer player who resigned from her team in 2020 after a dispute with a coach over a pre-game social justice ritual has been given the green light to proceed with her lawsuit against the coach.
Kiersten Hening played for the Virginia Tech women’s soccer team from 2018 to 2020, but ran afoul of coach Charles Adair in 2020 after she would not kneel before a game while a social justice statement was read, according to the New York Post.
Hening filed suit against Adair in 2021, alleging that “because she refused to kneel, he benched her, subjected her to repeated verbal abuse, and forced her off the team,” according to WSLS-TV.
Hening said in her lawsuit that although she “supports social justice and believes that black lives matter,” she “does not support BLM the organization,” citing its “tactics and core tenets of its mission statement, including defunding the police,” according to Fox News.
Judge Thomas Cullen held that “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”
— Jonathan Turley (@JonathanTurley) December 11, 2022
The ruling allowing Hening’s case to go forward said she alleges that Adair “berated her at halftime in front of her teammates, and again at a film-review session the following week, for ‘bi***ing and moaning”’ and ‘doing [her] own thing.’”
The ruling said the coach claimed he was unaware Hening did not kneel and that he criticized her and limited her playing time because she was not playing well.
Adair has sued to have the suit dismissed, but U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Cullen wrote in his ruling that “The court concludes that there is sufficient evidence in the record supporting Hening’s claim that Adair’s actions, whatever his motives, adversely affected her First Amendment rights.”
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“Whatever his motivations, the court has no trouble concluding that Adair’s conduct towards Hening — publicly chastising her, removing her from the starting lineup, and reducing her playing time — would tend to chill a person of ordinary firmness’s exercise of her First Amendment rights,” Cullen wrote.
⚽️ I’m a veteran and proudly stand for our national anthem. Myself and many veterans stand with Kiersten Hening in this case versus this coach….. 👉 Former Virginia Tech Soccer Player Alleges Coach Forced Her Off Team After Standing For National Anthem https://t.co/TUHpIREPht
— Scott Davis (@Chiseled_Scott) April 20, 2021
Noting that Hening bowed to pressure and knelt before the next two games, before she quit the team, Cullen wrote, “A reasonable jury, in sum, could find that Adair’s actions reasonably chilled Hening’s First Amendment expression.”
The court noted that “photographs from the game film clearly depict Adair, who is kneeling on the sideline, looking in Henning’s direction as she remained standing,” making it unlikely he was unaware of her actions.
Cullen ruled that “a fair review of the record indicates that Hening’s case is based on more than supposition; indeed, ample circumstantial evidence undergirds her claim and gives rise to genuine issues of material fact about Adair’s true motives and actions.”
The ruling said Hening was known to have conservative views and that Adair had indirectly criticized it.
Soccer Player Files Lawsuit Alleging She Was Forced Off Team for Refusing to Kneel Kiersten Hening filed the suit against her former Virginia Tech coach, Charles “Chugger” Adair, alleging that “because she refused to kneel, he benched her, subjected her to repeated verbal abuse. pic.twitter.com/7TBafVQAae
— pond (@pond_kat) April 23, 2021
“The evidence of Adair’s apparent views on this issue (as reflected in his alleged criticism of ‘All Lives Matter’ supporters) and Hening’s well-known conservative leanings and lack of support for BLM further support an inference that Adair had a retaliatory motive when he criticized, and later benched, Hening for refusing to kneel during the Unity Statement,” he wrote.
The ruling does not grant Hening a win in her suit, which will now be able to go to trial.