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Trials & Litigation

5th Circuit Tosses Cheerleading Suit, Hits Law Firm for Grammar and Spelling Errors

Posted Jul 18, 2011 5:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals panel has tossed a Section 1983 suit by a former Texas cheerleader who didn’t make the varsity squad amid conflicts with another cheerleader who called her a “ho.”

The onetime cheerleader had claimed the school was indifferent to sexual harassment by her rival, but the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t see it that way. The opinion (PDF) in Sanches v. Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District begins this way:

“Reduced to its essentials, this is nothing more than a dispute, fueled by a disgruntled cheerleader mom, over whether her daughter should have made the squad. It is a petty squabble, masquerading as a civil rights matter, that has no place in federal court or any other court.”

The ire in the opinion by Judge Jerry Smith doesn’t end with the cheerleader’s cause of action, which claimed both a violation of TItle IX and Section 1983 for an alleged violation of the equal protection clause. He also criticizes the cheerleader’s lawyers for grammar and spelling errors. In footnote 13, Smith writes:

“Usually we do not comment on technical and grammatical errors, because anyone can make such an occasional mistake, but here the miscues are so egregious and obvious that an average fourth grader would have avoided most of them. For example, the word ‘principals’ should have been “principles.’ The word ‘vacatur’ is misspelled. The subject and verb are not in agreement in one of the sentences, which has a singular subject (‘incompetence’) and a plural verb (‘are’).”

In particular, Smith criticized this sentence in the plaintiff's opening brief: “Because a magistrate is not an Article III judge, his incompetence in applying general principals [sic] of law are [sic] extraordinary.”

Smith said the meaning of the sentence is unclear, though it appears to be making an “unjustified and most unprofessional” attack on the magistrate judge in the case.

Above the Law identified the law firm representing the cheerleader as Littler Mendelson.

Law firm spokeswoman Jennifer Klein issued this statement to the ABA Journal: “The firm takes this matter seriously and is currently looking into the situation in full detail. This was a legacy case that accompanied a newly arriving team and the matter was resolved on summary judgment at the trial court level before the attorneys joined Littler. The firm is taking the appropriate steps to remedy any misunderstandings that may exist and we remain committed to providing our clients with the highest standards and delivering top quality legal services.”

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