A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit brought by a former University of Connecticut women’s soccer player who lost her scholarship after she gave the middle finger to a television camera as the Huskies celebrated winning a conference championship.
The former student athlete, Noriana Radwan, presented sufficient evidence to go to trial on her claim to have been subjected to harsher punishment than male athletes who violated conduct rules, said a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The ruling overturns part of a 2020 decision by a lower court judge who tossed Radwan's suit after deciding she hadn't proven her treatment was discriminatory. The appeals judges, however, upheld U.S. District Judge Victor Bolden's dismissal of Radwan's First Amendment and due process claims.
UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said school officials were disappointed with the decision but confident they will prevail in court.
“To be clear, the appeals court did not find that the plaintiff was treated more harshly than her male peers,” Reitz said in a statement. “The court simply found that she presented sufficient evidence to withstand summary judgment.”
Radwan did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. Her lawyer, Greg Tarone, said that he would comment on the ruling after he reviewed it, but that he was pleased the case is being returned to the trial court.
The Connecticut attorney general's office, which represented UConn in the appeal, said it was reviewing the ruling to determine its next move.
Radwan raised her middle finger to an ESPNU camera while celebrating with teammates after the Huskies beat South Florida 3-2 on penalty kicks in the 2014 American Athletic Conference championship game.
Coach Len Tsantiris initially suspended Radwan from the 2014 NCAA Tournament and issued a statement apologizing to the conference, South Florida and those who watched the game on television. Tsantiris retired after the 2017 season.
In her lawsuit, Radwan alleged that after the publicity died down, she was stripped of her scholarship midway through the school year without due process for what the coach described as “serious misconduct.” She eventually transferred to Hofstra.
Greg Tarone, her attorney, argued that although Radwan’s offense was regrettable, it was protected speech that did not rise to the level of “serious misconduct.” He also argued that the punishment was much harsher than what male athletes at the school had received for more serious offenses, including arrests.