What Happened With Reuben Lack

6a00d8341c730253ef016764305490970b-500wiThe week before last, Andy and I wrote about Reuben Lack, the former student council president of Alpharetta High, in Atlanta, who was allegedly dismissed from his position for trying to make prom more LGBT friendly.

Some of Lack's schoolmates showed up in the comments threads, claiming there was more to the story. Now it seems a judge agrees with them. Although Lack was dismised partially for non-offenses (stumping for his debate team in a speech to freshmen; engaging in an impolitic discussion of school matters on Facebook) which, if they constituted the sole rationale for his dismissal would be deemed legally inadequate, US District Judge Richard W. Story also saw evidence that Lack was an unsteady and unreliable officer.

From Judge Story's 12-page decision:

Once the Plaintiff proves his protected speech motivated the Defendants’ decision, the burden then shifts to the Defendants to prove that they would have made the same decision anyway. The Court finds that there is evidence which supports such a decision: 1) Plaintiff did not attend Homecoming Decoration day, wear spirit-week attire, or sell Homecoming tickets, even though Plaintiff sent the rest of the Council emails which reminded the others of their duty to do so and Plaintiff had previously agreed to complete those tasks …

… After being repeatedly told that meetings would occur before school because Werre and the student-athlete members could not attend afternoon meetings, Plaintiff continued to unilaterally schedule afternoon meetings and undermined the faculty advisors’ authority …

… Plaintiff routinely cancelled meetings the day before they were to occur without permission of the faculty advisors …

… Plaintiff unilaterally removed a Student Council member after being told not to by the faculty advisors …

… Defendants took a survey in October 2011 which revealed that the current meeting procedure was too “formalized” for many students and that some felt the Council had become a “dictatorship” under Plaintiff’s leadership …

… Plaintiff did not attend the Alpharetta’s Best Dance Crew tryouts, practice, planning, or event, even though this was a Student Council event …

… the Court finds that Werre and Reiser have been counseling Plaintiff on an ongoing basis about his failures since September 2011, and Werre and Reiser even went to discuss the issue with their principal, Kersey, on three occasions prior to terminating the Plaintiff …

And most importantly:

While the Court is concerned about the timing of his removal — that being within a month of the Prom Court issue and a week of the Facebook conversation — the Court finds that the evidence supports a conclusion that the removal was precipitated by Plaintiff’s failure to send an email about a class president’s meeting after being personally told to do so by Rieser on February1, 2012, and his failure to attend that meeting the next day.

The judge sums up:

This is not to say that the Court does not value Plaintiff’s zeal to change policy, or that the Court does not recognize the importance of championing the cause of inclusion for all students in school activities. Plaintiff clearly accomplished much in the way of policy changes–he helped remove the cafeteria’s “utensil tax,” got microwaves for the cafeteria, was assisting in getting bike racks installed at the school, and was concerned that all students felt included at Prom. However, the Court ultimately finds that his frequent failure to complete or attend any “spirit tasks” and continual undermining of the faculty advisors is sufficient to preclude a finding of a substantial likelihood of success on his First Amendment retaliation claim. As the Eighth Circuit has recognized, “discipline, courtesy, and respect for authority” are legitimate pedagogical concerns …