United States District Court, D. Idaho
JORGE GONZALES on behalf of his minor child A.G.; TODD MERRELL on behalf of his minor child A.M.; MANUEL MORALES and VERONICA MORALES on behalf of their minor child Z.M.; HENRY MUNOZ and MISTY MUNOZ on behalf of their minor child I.M.; ERASMO SALAZAR and ELLEN SALAZAR on behalf of their minor children C.S. and S.S.; ROBERT SANCHEZ and TIFFINY SANCHEZ on behalf of their minor child I.S.; SILVIA OCHOA on behalf of her minor child D.O.; SONIA RAMIREZ on behalf of her minor child V.R., Plaintiffs,
BURLEY HIGH SCHOOL; CASSIA JOINT SCHOOL DISTRICT 151; GAYLEN SMYER in his official and individual capacity; SANDRA MILLER in her official and individual capacity; LEVI POWER in his official and individual capacity; and DOES I-X, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
C. Nye Chief U.S. District Court Judge.
case involves First Amendment retaliation claims for
disciplinary actions taken against plaintiff members of the
Burley High School (“BHS”) cheer team
(“Plaintiffs”). Plaintiffs engaged in a peaceful
“sit-in” during an early morning cheer practice
to protest bullying and favoritism by their cheer coach.
Plaintiffs were ultimately suspended from the cheer team for
three weeks as a punishment and had to sign a list of
stipulations agreeing to additional punishment to be let back
on the squad. Although Plaintiffs signed the stipulations,
they each also reserved their right to engage in the school
district's grievance process. In response, the BHS
administration dismissed Plaintiffs from the cheerleading
team for the rest of the school year.
thereafter filed the instant suit, alleging two claims of
retaliation in violation of the First Amendment.
Plaintiffs' first claim for relief is for the retaliation
they experienced for initiating the sit-in, while
Plaintiffs' second claim for relief is for the
retaliation they purportedly suffered as a result of
reserving their rights to engage in the school district's
grievance process. Defendants BHS, Cassia Joint School
District 151, Superintendent Gaylen Smyer, Assistant
Superintendent Sandra Miller, and Principal Levi Power
(collectively referred to hereinafter as
“Defendants”) seek summary dismissal of both of
Plaintiffs' claims. Plaintiffs filed a motion for partial
summary judgment, seeking summary adjudication of their claim
of retaliation for reserving their rights to grieve the
school district's decision. On June 5, 2019, the Court
held oral argument on both motions. For the reasons stated
herein, the Court DENIES Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment and GRANTS Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial
cheer team won the state championships during the 2015-2016
and 2016-2017 school years under head coach Heidi Smith.
Eight of the nine plaintiff cheerleaders were on at least one
of the state championship teams. In the spring of 2017, the
BHS administration hired a new coach, Laine Mansfield, as the
head coach of the cheer team. Mansfield had previously served
for a portion of a year as an assistant junior high cheer
April 2017, Mansfield conducted tryouts for the 2017-2018 BHS
cheer team. Mansfield's temperament and fairness
immediately concerned Plaintiffs. For instance, Victoria
Aragon, an incoming senior who had been a member of both
state championship cheer teams, did not make the squad for
her senior year. Due to a personal dispute with Aragon,
Mansfield prohibited Plaintiffs from communicating with,
associating with, or otherwise talking about Aragon while at
cheerleading practice or in the presence of Mansfield.
Mansfield verbally reprimanded Plaintiffs if she observed
them communicating or associating with Aragon.
also demonstrably favored the younger members of the cheer
team she had coached as an assistant coach of the junior high
team, including her own daughter. For Plaintiffs, Mansfield
enforced mandatory attendance for practices and events, and
made no exceptions for conflicting school-related activities,
family functions, or any other non-emergency scheduling
conflict. If Plaintiffs missed a single practice, they were
excluded from practices and important games and events during
the week the practice was missed. Mansfield also punished one
Plaintiff, A.G., by excluding her from participating in a
cheer parade when she missed practice to attend a previously
scheduled school yearbook camp. This punishment was given
even though-several months prior- Mansfield had excused A.G.
from attending practice that day so she could attend the
yearbook camp. However, Mansfield rescheduled the entire
team's practice when her own daughter or other junior
members of the team had a conflict.
also routinely bullied Plaintiffs by degrading their
cheerleading abilities and appearance. Mansfield told
Plaintiffs they “sucked and that she had no idea how
[they] ever won a state title, ” claimed they looked
“trashy and gross, ” criticized Plaintiffs during
practice by stating they “looked really dumb, ugly or
sloppy, ” and talked negatively about certain
Plaintiffs to other members of the team, including describing
one Plaintiff as “the most loud, obnoxious person
she'd ever met” and complaining how
“lazy” another Plaintiff was. Dkt. 29-3, Ex. 2,
at 15, 24, 33, 34.
Mansfield demonstrated a lack of basic knowledge of, or
concern for, the safety requirements cheer coaches are
required to observe. For example, flyers- cheerleaders who
are lifted or thrown into the air-were repeatedly dropped on
the floor during practice. Although such falls can cause
paralysis or even death, Mansfield would tell the flyers to
“brush it off, suck it up, and do it right next
time” when they were dropped. Id. at 28. Yet
Mansfield would not teach the girls the appropriate way to do
the stunt or ensure they had the basics down before they
again attempted dangerous acrobatics. Id. Mansfield
also put inexperienced cheerleaders together in groups, gave
the squad no direction on how to safely stunt, paired stunt
groups incorrectly based on their size, risking serious
injury, and tried to make the cheerleaders attempt illegal
and their parents voiced numerous complaints to the BHS
administration about Mansfield's behavior and attended
meetings with BHS and Cassia Joint School District
administrators. In response to such complaints, the BHS
administration put Mansfield on a Performance Improvement
Plan, requiring her to, among other things, “keep her
communication positive” with members of the cheer team,
refrain from texting cheerleaders one on one, refrain from
discussing sensitive issues about the cheerleaders with
others, and to be “consistent and fair with all girls
in the cheer program[.]” Dkt. 26-10, Ex. 5, at 18:1-25:5.
When Mansfield's behavior did not improve, Plaintiffs
organized a sit-in during their early morning practice on
September 29, 2017, to protest Mansfield's
“bullying, favoritism, and incompetence.” Dkt.
26-1, at 2.
approximately 8:10 a.m. on the day of the protest, fourteen
BHS cheerleaders (nine of whom are plaintiffs in this suit),
entered the BHS gym at the end of one of their before-school
practices. The protesting cheerleaders wore their regular
school clothes (rather than their designated practice
uniforms) and sat on the bleachers for approximately two
minutes until they were asked to leave by BHS Athletic
Director Gordon Kerbs. When asked to leave the gym, one of
the Plaintiffs argued with Kerbs and Assistant Principal
Andrew Wray, stating the cheerleaders had a right to
peacefully protest. However, all of the girls ultimately left
the gym and went to the library with Kerbs and Wray.
end of the day on September 29, 2017, Plaintiffs were
informed that they were suspended from the cheerleading team
for the next week. On October 5, 2017, the BHS
Principals' Office gave each Plaintiff a list of
additional punishments to which Plaintiffs and their parents
were required to agree in order for Plaintiffs to be allowed
back on the cheerleading team. The October 5, 2017, letter
order to rejoin the cheer squad at [BHS] each of the
following must take place:
-You will serve a suspension from competing in events/games
until October 23, 2017, you will be allowed and expected to
attend all practices starting Monday, October 9[, ] 2017. You
will be expected to attend and sit in warm up gear with the
coaches during any games/events for the remainder of the
suspension starting Monday, October 9[, ] 2017.
-You will vocally address the entire cheer squad and coaches
Monday morning, October 9[, ] 2017 with a sincere apology.
-You will agree to participate in a 4-hour service project to
be completed on a Saturday before October 23, 2017. The date
will be given to you by the coaches.
-By October 23, 2017 you will write a one-page paper
explaining what you have learned about yourself through this
experience and will come up with one team building
activity/idea and present that in your paper to the coaches.
-You will be expected to follow the rules in the cheer
handbook, failure to follow the rules will result in
dismissal from the squad.
-You will have and maintain a positive attitude and work
ethic with all aspects of the cheer squad moving forward.
-Any negative texts/social media posts about any member of
the cheer squad, cheer coaching staff or [BHS] will result in
dismissal from the team.
-Any parent boosters [sic] activity must be cleared through
-This letter must be signed by the cheerleader and a
parent/guardian and hand delivered [to BHS administration]
¶ 3:30 PM on Friday October 6, 2017. Failure to do so
will result in dismissal from the cheer squad.
Dkt. 25-8, Ex. S.
the Plaintiffs and their parents returned signed stipulation
agreements to the BHS administration by October 6, 2017.
However, Plaintiffs also attached a one-sentence letter
stating, “I/We are signing this but we want to reserve
our right to be afforded our rights in the districts [sic]
grievance process[.]” Id.
October 7, 2017, Cassia School District Superintendent Gaylen
Smyer (“Superintendent Smyer”) and Assistant
Superintendent Sandra Miller (“Assistant Superintendent
Miller”) sent each Plaintiff a letter dismissing them
from the cheer team for the 2017-2018 school year. The
dismissal letter stated, in part:
It is clear to district level administration that while the
stipulation agreements were returned the presence of the
additional page or addendum suggests a continued conflict on
the part of the cheer team, the individual student and
parents with the coach and school administration. Such an
expression is interpreted to be a desire to utilize the
grievance process as opposed to the solution propounded by
the administration. It is the belief of the school
superintendent and the assistant superintendent [that] the
school and the cheer team would be best served by revoking
the membership of [each Plaintiff] on the [BHS] cheer team
effective Monday, October 9, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.
25-8, Ex. T. Cheerleaders who participated in the sit-in and
signed the stipulation letter, but who did not reserve their
right to engage in the school district's grievance
process, were allowed back on the cheer team.
thereafter filed the instant suit alleging two counts of
retaliation in violation of the First Amendment under 42
U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs' first claim for relief
alleges that the Defendants unlawfully retaliated against
Plaintiffs by imposing a three- week suspension and
additional punishments in response to Plaintiffs engaging in
their constitutionally protected right to peacefully protest
(hereinafter “Claim One”). Plaintiffs' second
claim for relief alleges Defendants unlawfully retaliated
against Plaintiffs by dismissing them from the cheerleading
team for reserving their rights to engage in the school
district's grievance process (hereinafter “Claim
January 11, 2019, Defendants and Plaintiffs filed
cross-motions for summary judgment. Defendants seek summary
judgment with respect to both of Plaintiffs' First
Amendment retaliation claims. Plaintiffs contend a genuine
issue of disputed material fact precludes summary judgment on
Claim One, but suggest the undisputed facts establish they
are entitled to summary judgment on Claim Two.
for summary judgment are governed by Rule 56 of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 56 provides that judgment
shall be granted if the movant shows there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
According to Rule 56, an issue must be both
“material” and “genuine” to preclude
entry of summary judgment. Id. An issue is
“material” if it affects the outcome of the
litigation. Hahn v. Sargent, 523 F.2d 461, 464 (1st
Cir. 1975). That is, a material fact is one that is relevant
to an element of a claim or defense which might affect the
outcome of the suit. The materiality of a fact is thus
determined by the substantive law governing the claim or
defense. T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors
Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242
(1986)). Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will
not preclude a grant of summary judgment. Id.
other hand, an issue is “genuine” when there is
“sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual
dispute . . . to require a jury or judge to resolve the
parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.”
Hahn, 523 F.2d at 464 (quoting First Nat'l
Bank of Arizona v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289
(1968)). Because factual disputes are to be decided at trial,
in ruling on summary judgment motions, the Court does not
resolve conflicting evidence with respect to disputed
material facts, nor does it make credibility determinations.
T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc., 809 F.2d at 630.
Moreover, all inferences must be drawn in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 631.
where, as here, the parties both move for summary judgment,
the Court will consider each motion on its own merits.
Fair Housing Council of Riverside Cty. v. Riverside Two,
249 F.3d 1132, 1136 (9th Cir. 2001). In ruling on
cross-motions, the Court will consider the entirety of each
party's evidentiary submission, regardless of which
motion (or opposition) the evidence accompanied. Id.