Everyone learns a lot of life lessons during high school. Sometimes these lessons are learned the hard way and result from the consequences of inappropriate behavior. This is even more the case today, where images can be quickly posted online for the public to see. In this case, a high school cheerleader found herself in an unfortunate situation after posting an inappropriate picture of herself online.
Rebekka Arceneaux was a member of the varsity cheer team at Assumption High School. A public Snapchat account showed a picture of her with the skirt of her cheer uniform raised. Arceneaux was suspended and dismissed from the cheer team for exhibiting unacceptable behavior, violating the high school’s Cheer Discipline Policy. This discipline also resulted in her being unable to try out for the cheer team the following year.
Arceneaux’s parents appealed her suspension, arguing that under the high school athletic handbook, she could not be prevented from trying out for the cheer team the next year because she only had a single suspension. After her parents were informed their appeal would not be considered, they filed a grievance with the Assumption Parish School Board. The school board responded Arceneaux had violated the Cheer Discipline Policy, and the resulting disciplinary actions were warranted.
Arceneaux’s parents then filed a lawsuit claiming the discipline constituted gender discrimination under Title XI, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which is actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They argued the cheer policy was harsher than those in the general athletic handbook, resulting in her punishment being harsher than that received by males for similar conduct.
The school board filed a summary judgment motion, claiming Arceneaux could not prevail in her lawsuit because she could not identify a comparable situation where someone was treated more favorably than her. The district court granted the school board’s summary judgment motion as Arceneaux did not provide sufficient evidence. Arceneaux appealed.
On appeal, the appellate court explained to succeed in her gender discrimination claim, Arceneaux was required to show she was excluded from the cheer team because she was a female. Arceneaux did not provide direct or circumstantial evidence to support her discrimination claim. Instead, the evidence showed Arceneaux was removed from the cheer team because she posed for a photo with her cheer uniform skirt raised, which was posted online. None of the language of the Cheer Discipline Policy suggested it only applied to female cheerleaders, so it could not be facially discriminatory. Therefore, the appellate court agreed the trial court properly dismissed Arceneaux’s claims because she did not prove she had been excluded from participating in or trying out for the cheer team because she was female.
This case serves as a reminder that high school students may face consequences for their behavior, and it is crucial to be mindful of actions that could adversely affect their educational pursuits and extracurricular activities. While gender discrimination is a serious issue, the court highlighted that equal application of rules and policies does not inherently indicate discrimination. Students should take this as a valuable lesson to exercise responsible behavior, both online and offline, and understand that actions can have consequences regardless of gender.
Additional Sources: Rebekka Arceneaux v. Assumption Parish School Board; Niles Riche
Article Written By Berniard Law Firm
Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Gender Discrimination Claims: Unveiling the Shield: Understanding Retaliation Protections and Discrimination Claims under Title VII