How often do federal appeals judges wade into the petty internecine struggles of high-school cheerleaders and their meddling mothers? We're going to go out on a limb and say it's rare. Rare and, when it does occur, deeply entertaining.
In a recent decision, the stately jurists of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit recount a cross between Mean Girls and Bring It On, in which former Creekview High School cheerleader Samantha "Sami" Sanches seeks Title IX relief against the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District for retaliation and sex discrimination. Those are big guns to brandish over the fact that Sami didn't make the varsity squad, and you can practically see the judges' pinched noses and thinly veiled contempt in the opinion's otherwise dry legalese.
"It's a petty squabble, masquerading as a civil rights matter, that has no place in federal court or any other court," the opinion begins. You can see where this is headed from there. Sami's appeal got tossed with glee last week when the 5th Circuit affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the case.
Sami's troubles began during her junior year, in March 2008. Predictably, this case's trail can be traced back to a boy -- a senior, in fact -- referred to only as CP. Problem is, CP was the ex-boyfriend of a varsity cheerleader known as JH. Around that time, JH got popped by the principal for posting "inappropriate" Facebook photos and was suspended from cheerleading for a week. JH and Sami had been beefing, so JH suspected Sami's mother, Liz Laningham, of being the snitch.
JH let Sami know it was on. Like, for realz and junk. And when JH found out Sami had been dating CP since spring break, she called her out as a "ho" and threatened to "beat her ass" during sixth-period class. Sami tattled, Laningham raised a stink and school administrators assured her the matter would be investigated. JH was subsequently transferred to another class.
But as far as the overbearing Laningham was concerned, thing wasn't over yet -- not by a long shot. She had her lawyer fire off a six-page missive detailing a laundry list of perceived injustices. To wit:
1. The school did not remove the freshman cheerleading squad captain after she told Sanches she'd kissed her boyfriend. 2 The way the squad chose jump sequences at homecoming was patently unfair. 3. Rank favoritism. 4. The scheduling of the end-of-year banquet for cheerleaders was too favorable to senior girls. 5. Laningham was threatened with a lawsuit by other parents because she failed to return cheerleading videos.
And the list goes on.
By April, though, things took a turn for the dire. Vile machinations were plotted. JH and two other cheerleaders sat in a car outside of Sami's house on the first night of try-outs. They were going to ring-and-run, but Laningham spotted the girls and chased them off. The girls told the assistant principal about their aborted misdeed and were banned from try-outs for a week. In response, nine of the ten varsity cheerleaders quit the team in a show of unity. Sanches, despite the depleted roster, still failed to make varsity.
Smelling foul play, Laningham stepped up her attacks against JH. Sami made a comment in the locker room about a rash on her boob. Laningham claimed to school officials that JH had overheard her and started a rumor about a breast hickey. JH, it later turned out, wasn't even in the locker room at the time.
Predictably, CP eventually broke Sami's heart, and JH wiped her tears in the hallway one day. They were both getting played by CP, she'd later say. To Laningham, that was evidence of a broken school. She filed a formal complaint, claiming that a hostile school environment caused her daughter's failure to make the varsity squad. Sami, she demanded, must be placed on the squad immediately.
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Meanwhile, Sami's GPA plummeted (wonder why?). She was diagnosed with depression. A federal lawsuit was filed on her behalf, describing her junior year as a "nightmare of gender-based bullying and harassment." Federal Magistrate Judge Paul D. Stickney, however, was unmoved by tales of Sami's many hardships. He found for the school district.
Sami's attorneys lambasted Stickney with a semi-coherent rant filed before the 5th Circuit, disregarding the most elemental tenets of professionalism, spelling and subject-verb agreement.
"Usually we do not comment on technical and grammatical errors, because anyone can make a technical mistake, but here the miscues are so egregious and obvious that an average fourth grader would have avoided most of them," the opinion says in a hilarious footnote at the end.
Does that mean we shouldn't expect a writ of certiorari from the Supremes?