A former Virginia Tech women's soccer player will receive a $100,000 settlement as part of a deal to dismiss a federal lawsuit after accusing her coach of benching her for her political views.
Kiersten Hening filed the lawsuit in 2021 against Coach Charles "Chugger" Adair, alleging violation of the First Amendment. She was disciplined for expressing political views that differed from those of her teammates during the rise of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in 2020.
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Cameron Norris, attorney for Hening, told the Roanoke Times that the settlement has to be approved by the university and state authorities before it becomes final.
A lawsuit for verbal attacks
Hening played midfielder and defensive midfielder for the Hokies from 2018-2020. The former player claimed she was removed from her starting position and pressured to leave the team after she refused to kneel during the reading of a "unity statement" before a game. She said Adair "verbally attacked" her during the break, claiming she was "b--tching and moaning" as he put his finger in her face.
Hening explained that while she "supports social justice and believes that black lives matter," she "does not support the BLM organization," and cited its "tactics and core tenets of its mission statement, including defunding the police."
According to the lawsuit, Adair continued to berate Hening and sat her on the bench. Ultimately, it made things so "intolerable" that she felt she had no choice but to leave the team.
Discrimination based on political opinions
On Dec. 2, a federal judge denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, noting that Hening's playing time diminished after the incident of refusing to kneel. According to Judge Tomas Cullen:
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 trial was cancelled in a court filing that stated that the case had been settled. On Jan. 4, Adair released a statement on Twitter without mentioning the deal:
I am pleased the case against me has been closed and I am free to move forward free of any wrong doing [sic.]. It's unfortunate, but this ordeal was about a disappointment and a disagreement about playing time. Today, we have the clarity that this case lacked any standing, and without evidence, the truth has prevailed.
- CoachChugger (@CoachChugger) January 4, 2023
Adam Mortara, another of Hening's lawyers, tweeted in response to Adair's statement:
If by clarity you mean you are paying my client six figures in a settlement then you’re right that’s pretty clear. Honestly, Coach, read the Court’s opinion. You are paying. Defendants don’t pay in cases that have no standing.
Mortara went on to thank Adair and his "bosses at [Virginia] Tech for paying the equivalent of several years of tuition" at the university.
If by clarity you mean you are paying my client six figures in a settlement then you're right that's pretty clear. Honestly, Coach, read the Court's opinion. You are paying. Defendants don't pay in cases that have no standing.
- Adam Mortara (@AdamMortara) January 4, 2023