Cheerleader wins $145,000 settlement after she was wrongfully disciplined for kneeling during anthem

Francis Akhalbey Dec 9, 2019 at 09:30am

December 09, 2019 at 09:30 am | News

Francis Akhalbey

Francis Akhalbey | Staff Writer

December 09, 2019 at 09:30 am | News

Screenshot via ABC News

Five Kennesaw State University cheerleaders made the news in September 2017 when they decided to “take the knee” during the national anthem at a football game.

The lawful exercise of their First Amendment, which was met with sharp criticism, resulted in the group being barred from the field during the national anthem for the next two games.

According to the Marietta Daily Journal, one of the cheerleaders, Tommia Dean, reached a $145,000 settlement with the Georgia Department of Administrative Services in October after filing a lawsuit in 2018.

Per court documents, former president of the university, Sam Olens, as well as former employees of the school’s athletic department, Scott Whitlock and Matt Griffin were listed as defendants. Others listed were Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren and former Republican state Rep. Earl Ehrhart.

Dean, who is still a student at the university but no longer on the cheerleading team, as part of the settlement, received $93,000. Her lawyers received the remaining $52,000 to cover legal expenses.

The agreement, which was obtained by MDJ reads: “The intent of this agreement is to buy peace of mind from future controversy and forestall further attorney’s fees, costs, or other expenses of litigation, and further that this agreement represents the compromise, economic resolution of disputed claims and, as such, shall not be deemed in any manner an admission, finding, conclusion, evidence or indication for any purposes whatsoever, that the KSU defendants acted contrary to the law or otherwise violated the rights of Dean.”

Warren and Ehrhart, who Dean claimed pushed Olens to take disciplinary action for their protest were, however, exempt from the settlement. Though she claimed the duo’s actions were racially motivated and suffered emotional stress as a result, a judge moved to dismiss them on the grounds that there wasn’t any such evidence to corroborate her claim.

One of Dean’s lawyers, Bruce P. Brown, however, told The New York Times they are appealing Warren’s dismissal.

“The appeal is important because it calls into question when private parties can be liable under the civil rights laws of causing a public official or conspiring with a public official to violate a citizen’s First Amendment rights,” Brown said.

Two months after the September 2017 incident, officials from the University System of Georgia, after investigations, concluded the cheerleaders had the right to exercise their First Amendment and shouldn’t have been prevented from doing so unless it interfered with the game.

“Kneeling during the national anthem is respectful and a completely appropriate protest that should be protected by the university under the First Amendment. It should not be prohibited or punished, ever,” Brown told The New York Times.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, spearheaded the “taking the knee” national anthem movement in 2016 to protest police brutality against people of color and also racial inequality. He is still without a team after he became a free agent that same year.

“We wanted not only to take the action, but let the values behind our action be known,” one of the cheerleaders said in an interview with 11 Alive after their protest. “So we definitely prayed about it, because we knew that there was going to be a lot of… backlash that came from it. And there was some fear, there. But our passion was definitely stronger than our fear.”

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