Roanoke, VA – A federal judge had determined the former member of the Virginia Tech women’s soccer team who claimed her coach cut her playing time and berated her after she refused to kneel with her teammates in support of Black Lives Matter will be allowed to continue her lawsuit.
Western District of Virginia Federal Judge Thomas Cullen ruled on Dec. 2 that Virginia Tech Women’s Soccer Coach Charles “Chugger” Adair may have violated former Hokie’s midfielder/defender Kiersten Hening’s First Amendment rights by allegedly penalizing her for refusing to participate during the team’s social justice protest, Newsweek reported.
Cullen’s decision paves the way for the lawsuit to proceed to trial.
Hening, who played for the Hokies from 2018 to 2020, filed her lawsuit against Adair in 2021, FOX News reported.
The former soccer player said in the suit that her views on social justice issues amid the peak of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement differed from those of many of her teammates, and further alleged Adair was particularly disenchanted by her political views.
The alleged problems began on Sept. 12, 2020, in the moments prior to the Hokies’ season opener against the University of Virginia (UVA,) according to the ruling.
Soccer Player Files Lawsuit—She Was Forced Off Team for Refusing to Kneel at BLM protest— Kiersten Hening filed the suit against 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/wFyWvuXipC
— Free America 🇺🇸 (@FreeAme19691836) December 12, 2022
While a “Unity Statement” was read over the loudspeaker during the pregame, Hening refused to kneel alongside her coaches and teammates as they demonstrated their support of Black Lives Matter and various social-justice initiatives, the lawsuit read.
Hening noted in the filing that she “supports social justice and believes that black lives matter,” but that she “does not support BLM the organization,” FOX News reported.
She said she especially does not agree with the “tactics and core tenets” of the BLM’s “mission statement, including defunding the police,” according to the lawsuit.
Hening alleged that Adair was infuriated over her refusal to participate in the social justice protest, and that he “verbally attacked her” during halftime as a result, FOX News reported.
According to the lawsuit, the coach accused her of “b-tching and moaning” as he jabbed his finger in her face during the halftime confrontation.
“Coach Adair’s tirade was so extreme, so personally directed at Hening, and so disconnected from the game itself, that her teammates approached her afterward to comfort her and express their shock,” the lawsuit alleged, according to Newsweek.
Hening said Adair ultimately benched her over the ordeal and continued to berate her to the point that she felt she had no choice but to resign from the team, the suit alleged.
“Hening, who had been a major on-field contributor for two years prior to the 2020 season, also asserts that Adair removed her from the starting lineup for the next two games and drastically reduced her playing time in those games because she had engaged in this protected First Amendment activity,” Cullen wrote in his ruling, according to FOX News. “As a result, Hening resigned from the team after the third game of the season.”
The judge further noted that Hening averaged 76 minutes of playing time as a freshman, and nearly 88 minutes as a sophomore.
But in the second game of the 2020 season – the next game after she refused to kneel – she was only on the field for 29 minutes, Cullen wrote.
Hening played just five minutes during the game after that, according to the judge.
Adair urged the court to dismiss the lawsuit and argued that two of Hening’s teammates who also remained standing during the social justice demonstration didn’t have their playing time reduced at all, FOX News reported.
Cullen denied the motion to dismiss.
“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,” the judge’s ruling read, according to FOX News.
“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 concluded.