Kilgore ISD pays $77K in outing lawsuit
Feb. 21, 2014 at 11 p.m.
Kilgore ISD officials agreed Friday to pay $77,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by a lesbian student who said her coaches outed her to her mother.
The decision came less than two weeks before a scheduled trial and one week after the district's board of trustees met to discuss the litigation but made no formal decision.
"The great thing that Skye did in bringing this lawsuit was that it was not just for her, it was for others," said Jennifer Doan of Texarkana-based Haltom and Doan, the attorney who represented former Kilgore ISD student Skye Wyatt.
Wyatt, now 21, claimed in her lawsuit that the district violated her right to privacy under the U.S. Constitution, the Texas Constitution and Texas Common Law.
In addition to the financial pay-out, the district agreed to schedule "a live 30 minute training session for all of its employees ... including discrimination policies, including but not limited to sexual orientation and privacy" and to "record the training and present it annually to its employees as part of the in-service training prior to the school year," according to the settlement agreement.
The district also will ensure the policies are in the student/parent and employee handbooks as well as on the district's website, the agreement shows.
According to the lawsuit, on March 2, 2009, an unscheduled, off-campus softball practice was called. When Skye Wyatt, then 16, arrived at the field, then-Kilgore ISD softball coaches Rhonda Fletcher and Cassandra Newell dismissed the rest of the team.
The coaches called Wyatt into an empty locker room, locked the door and accused her of having a sexual relationship with another girl and of being a lesbian, according to the lawsuit. At the time of the confrontation, Wyatt and the other girl were dating, the lawsuit states.
Wyatt denied the accusations, and the coaches threatened to sue her for slander, told her she could not play in the softball game and said they were going to tell her mother she was involved with another girl, according to the lawsuit.
The coaches called Barbara Wyatt and asked her to meet them at the field, which she did 40 minutes later, and was told her daughter was homosexual, according to the lawsuit.
Barbara Wyatt filed a Level 1 grievance on Aug. 24, 2009, with the high school principal, but the claims were dismissed because she had waited too long to file the grievance, according to the lawsuit. She was not aware of the time limit, the lawsuit stated.
She filed a Level 2 grievance with former Kilgore ISD Superintendent Jody Clements on Sept. 16, 2009. The lawsuit stated Clements defended the coaches and did not offer a remedy.
Barbara Wyatt filed a Level 3 grievance with the school board on Oct. 30, 2009, and the board agreed with Clements, the lawsuit stated.
"It was a long, hard fight, but I'm really glad that the school district agreed to make a positive change that will prevent this from happening again," said Wayne Krause Yang, legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which worked along with the Texarkana firm, in a statement. "It's not just a win for our client and her family, but for the school district, all of its students, and their parents. This will benefit everybody."
In an statement released Friday, Kilgore's board stood by its employees and claimed the settlement was a business decision of the district's insurance.
"The Kilgore ISD board believes that the actions of its employees were in all things lawful. The Kilgore ISD 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 Kilgore ISD Board refused," the statement said.
"The Kilgore ISD Board of Trustees has no power to oppose the payment of settlement funds in this case, that matter being solely within the discretion of the insurance carrier. It is a business decision of the insurance company, and the settlement is much less expensive than what the insurance carrier would spend in this case in attorney fees and costs through trial, appeal by the plaintiff to the Fifth Circuit and appeal by the Plaintiff to the United States Supreme Court," the district said.
Doan, however, said the lawsuit did spur a change.
"The agreement puts into place important protections for students and their privacy rights, and the school district's official policy will prohibit exclusion by sexual orientation," she said in a statement.