Former Oklahoma U Volleyball Player’s First Amendment Claim Can Go Forward
From McLaughlin v. Bd. of Regents, decided yesterday by Judge Joe Heaton (W.D. Okla.):
According to the amended complaint, plaintiff [Kylee McLaughlin] was a premier volleyball player and scholarship student athlete who played on the University [of Oklahoma]’s intercollegiate women’s volleyball team. She also describes herself as a practicing Christian and conservative in her political beliefs. Defendant Lindsey Gray-Walton is the head women’s basketball coach. Defendant Kyle Walton is Gray-Walton’s husband and an assistant women’s volleyball coach….
The amended complaint broadly alleges a pattern of pressure and retaliation against plaintiff due to her political beliefs and her reactions to claims of racism by others. She alleges that during the period following the killing of George Floyd and of the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus of the coaches of the O.U. volleyball team shifted from volleyball to required discussions about “white privilege and social justice,” including watching documentaries about racism and slavery. The complaint alleges that, although her mandated comments about a required documentary were not racist, another team member suggested via a social media post that plaintiff’s comments were those of a racist.
The complaint alleges that, on June 12, 2020, plaintiff posted emojis (a laughing clown and a skull and crossbones) on an ESPN website to indicate her skepticism as to whether “The Eyes of Texas,” a song of some popularity in the State of Texas, was a racist song. According to the complaint, the posting triggered an immediate contact from Gray-Walton that same day, adverse comments from some of her teammates, and, on the following day, instructions from Gray-Walton for plaintiff to take down her posts and an extended discussion about “white allergies and white privilege” and plaintiff’s need to look into herself to identify those things.
The complaint further alleges that, a day or so after the ESPN posting, Gray-Walton and Kyle Walton, along with others, conducted a team meeting directed at plaintiff’s comments about the documentary and “The Eyes of Texas.” The meeting allegedly included a representative of “the Psychological Research Organization” and O.U.’s Office of “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” According to the complaint, plaintiff was called a racist and a homophobe during the meeting (apparently by other teammates). Allegedly, defendant Gray-Walton said something to the effect that “we can’t save you when you get into the real world” and defendant Kyle Walton said, “Not sure I can coach you anymore.”
The complaint alleges plaintiff attempted to apologize but the group rejected the apology because they viewed it as offered with insufficient feeling. Allegedly, due to pressure from Gray-Walton, plaintiff apologized to the coaches and players at the University of Texas the next day by phone and they were more accepting.
The complaint indicates the incident(s) and the accusations that plaintiff was a racist and a homophobe resulted in more meetings, eventually resulting in a zoom meeting (apparently with Gray-Walton and Toby Baldwin, identified as “O.U.’s compliance officer”) in which plaintiff was told she “did not fit the culture of the program” and could not be trusted based on her media posts and comments reported by her teammates. She was allegedly pr
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