Fired gay water polo coach files sexual discrimination suit

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

A high school water polo coach in California who was fired in August has filed a discrimination case against the school district in which he was employed, claiming that he was dismissed out of homophobic impulses exhibited by the leadership of his former school.

Charter Oak gay water polo coach Mitch Stein
Charter Oak gay water polo coach Mitch Stein

According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Glendora Patch, Mitch Stein was an assistant water polo coach at Charter Oak (Calif.) High until he was dismissed in August, following a complaint from the parent of one of his athletes. In a letter sent to Charter Oak principal Kathleen Wiard, that aforementioned parent included photos of Stein taken from his Facebook and MySpace accounts which they deemed to be inappropriate, one in which he posed with two drag queens and another where he was allegedly preparing to eat a corn dog.

The parent who sent the letter allegedly demanded that Stein be fired, and the Charter Oak Unified School District acquiesced, dismissing Stein from his coaching duties -- where he had coached his own daughter, among other teens -- despite his repeated willingness to remove any photos that the school board deemed inappropriate.

"In that first initial meeting, I was shocked," Stein told Glendora Patch. "I was immediately worried about my daughter and the ramifications.

"The only thing these pictures prove is that I'm gay."

In a meeting one day after being fired by Wiard, the school district's assistant superintendent of human resources told Stein that he was being fired for publicly posting offensive photos, but Stein refuses to believe that his sexual orientation was not a factor in that determination. During that meeting, the district official reportedly stressed that he was not being fired because he was a homosexual.

"When someone tells you 'Oh, by the way, we're not doing it because you're gay,' there's some question," Stein's lawyer, Brad Kane, told the Tribune. "It appears to be at this stage sexual-orientation-based discrimination."

The first source of public outcry to reinstate Stein was a Facebook page called "Whipeout Homophobia on Facebook", which quickly mobilized to support the former coach. Shortly thereafter, those more directly involved stood to argue for his reinstatement. Just as a parent was the individual to spark the furore around Stein in the first place, other water polo parents have come to the coach's defense, writing letters of support to the school board asking that Stein be brought back to coach the team.

Kim Cory, one of the water-polo parents who wrote a letter of support for Stein, said she can't imagine why the district wouldn't bring him back.

"I think he's a fabulous coach," she said. "From what I saw, he was very involved in their teaching."

Cory said she's seen the photos in question. While she described them as "dumb," she said they weren't offensive and certainly not grounds for termination in her mind.

"I don't think it was appropriate action," she said. "I think the person that had a problem should approach the head coach and talk about it."

Indeed, another Charter Oak water polo parent argued that while Stein's posting of photos was a poor choice, it was hardly grounds for termination of a coach who led his team to an undefeated summer season and also organized a fundraiser where the school's water polo and swim teams came together to re-paint the school's pool deck. Stein had also reportedly gained a monthly $500 sponsorship deal for the swim and water polo teams from a local Kohl's department store to help defray school costs for the upcoming season, an initiative he took up on his own.

"Does the punishment fit the crime? Probably not," Charter Oak water polo parent Greg Ortega told the Tribune. "Mitch shouldn't have had them up is what it amounts to. [But] poor taste in my opinion is not a reason to get fired. It's more of a reason for discipline."

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