Does lesbian soccer coach have a legal case?

Lisa Howe is a lesbian and had no trouble keeping that to herself while acting as an educator to young women as the women’s soccer coach of Tennessee’s Belmont University. Her record was 52-48-16 and her team won its conference regular season title in the 2009 season. But the story surrounding this successful coach took a turn recently when Howe told her students she was welcoming a baby into her life. Since that announcement, Howe has lost her job.

After the school discovered their coach had made the announcement, Howe was given the opportunity to resign rather than be fired. She opted for the resignation route and left a final message on the chalkboard for the athletes that read “No regrets.”

Howe may be a victim in many attorney’s eyes. She had no idea that she was about to reach the point of no return when she had informed Mike Strickland, the Athletics Director, about the arrival of a baby into the life of her and her partner. Realizing her students would learn of the good news at some point she elected to treat them like young adults and told them directly about it.

According to the school, she violated a policy in doing so. Sari Lin, the soccer team’s captain, told the Tennessean newspaper that in a meeting she requested with Strickland, that the A.D. told her “we have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy” which Howe violated by indirectly announcing her sexual preference. News of a baby coming into her life with a partner was comparable to saying she is a homosexual according to Ms. Lin’s version of the meeting.

Because the state of Tennessee does not recognize sexual orientation as grounds for protection under the state’s Human Rights Act, Howe may not be able to take advantage of legal action on that score. It still remains unclear if the university has a specific policy that demands silence about one’s sexual identity. Whether it does or not, some lawyers may tell her she can charge that she was pushed out the door and wrongly terminated then let the situation play out in court.

On December 2, after the student newspaper broke the news of her situation, the school responded by announcing that Howe resigned of her own volition. The following day the school changed the script:

“…there was a mutual agreement that it would be in the best interests of both Coach Howe and the university for her to conclude her employment as coach.”  In other words, she was not fired and did not resign but is no longer the women’s soccer coach.

Have to imagine that this one will be continued. . . .

For more sports related legal stuff visit Jocks Behind Bars

Used with permission of the author.

Paula Duffy is a national sports columnist for and the Huffington Post and regularly comments on sports/legal matters for radio affiliates of ESPN and Fox Sports. She founded the sports information site, Incidental Contact, is the author of a line of audio books designed for sports novices and in her spare time practices law in Los Angeles.

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