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Jury Decides If Softball Coach Cookson Was Fired for Being a Lesbian

Jury Decides If Softball Coach Cookson Was Fired for Being a Lesbian

Maine's highest court has revived a discrimination lawsuit by former Brewer High School softball coach, Kelly Jo Cookson, who claims she was not rehired because she's a lesbian. It's now up to a jury to decide. 

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has sent back to Penobscot County Superior Court  Kelly Jo Cookson's,  a former Brewer softball coach, claim stipulating she was fired because she is a lesbian, according to Advocate.

The court ruled unanimously Tuesday that it was up to a jury to decide whether Cookson's contract was not renewed in 2006 because of her sexual orientation or because she condoned hazing, as argued by the Brewer school district . In the same decision, the court upheld a Superior Court justice's dismissal of Cookson's slander allegations.

The former coach's lawsuit was the first filed in the state after sexual orientation was included in the Maine Human Rights Act in 2005.

The school district maintains that the decision to not renew Cookson's contract  was rendered after she allegedly forced the girls on her team to walk barefoot through sheep feces at a team picnic in 2005.
The 47 year old Cookson had coached in Brewer since 1993.

Cookson claimed in her lawsuit, filed in October 2006, that the district's claim to not renew her term for so-called hazing incidents was a false excuse and that the real reason she was fired was because of her sexual orientation.

In 2007, Superior Court Justice Kevin Cuddy granted a motion by the school district and Brewer School Superintendent Daniel Lee, finding that the decision not to rehire Cookson was not discriminatory. The former coach's attorney, A.J. Greif of Bangor, then appealed to the state supreme court.

The high court heard arguments in May 2008. Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley wrote the 17-page opinion.

"We recognize that a fact-finder could ultimately determine that Cookson failed to establish that Lee's offered rationale was a pretext for illegal discrimination and that the serious nature of the hazing and other alleged incidents, the parental concerns and complaints, and the need for a more balanced program were the actual motivating factors behind the decision not to nominate her as head coach," Saufley said.

Lee decided not to recommend the rehiring of Cookson at the end of the 2006 season after the parents of former team member Stacey Gomm filed a notice of claim with the school department.
Lee said his decision was motivated by the fact that Cookson possibly violated the school's anti-hazing policy. He also added that the former coach did not provide "a balanced sports program for the team. " and appointed Skip Estes, a heterosexual man, to the position.

The status of Gomm's claim could not be determined Tuesday and neither could a date be set as to when the case might go before a jury.
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Mona Elyafi