A school board was justified in terminating a school cook and cheerleading coach who took her female students on an unapproved overnight trip, took seminude pictures of them and referred to them as “hoes” on social media, says the West Virginia Supreme Court in partially overturning a lower court ruling.
Jill Kimble was a cook employed by a high school of the Kanawha County Board of Education in Charleston, West Virginia, during the 2007-2008 school year, where she also served as the head cheerleading coach, according to the May 30 ruling by the West Virginia Supreme Court of appeals in Kanawha County Board of Education v. Jill Kimble.
During that school year she took the cheerleaders on an overnight Christmas party held in a cabin in another county, and was later told that all such future trips must have prior approval.
During the following school year, Ms. Kimble continued as cheerleading coach at the high school but worked as the head cook at an elementary school in the same school district. She again took the cheerleaders on to an overnight party without obtaining prior permission, according to the ruling.
During the 2008 party, a photograph was taken of Ms. Kimble sitting in the cabin's hot tub surrounded by several of the female cheerleaders. Although Ms. Kimble was clothed, most of the girls, all of whom were minors, were topless and covering their breasts with their hands and arms, according to the ruling.
Ms. Kimble posted other photos of the party to her MySpace account on the Internet. Although the students were fully clothed in these pictures, in one photo Ms. Kimble inserted the caption, “my girls acting like their self (sic)…hoes.”
The photographs were discovered by parents and others, and Ms. Kimble was terminated from both her cheerleading coach and head cook positions.
The West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board in Charleston affirmed her dismissal from the coaching position, but concluded the school board had not proved a “rational nexus” between her misconduct and the head cook position, and ordered her reinstated to that position with full back pay and benefits. The Circuit Court of Kanawha County in Charleston subsequently affirmed that ruling.
“Unquestionably, Ms. Kimble was insubordinate” in taking the students on the trip after her principal had expressly instructed her that prior approval was required, said the West Virginia Supreme Court in a unanimous 4-0 ruling.
Referring to a copy of a photograph taken during the 2008 trip, the ruling said also that “such inappropriate conduct by a school board employee with students who are in her charge is not in conformity with accepted principles of right and wrong behavior.”
In addition, the administrative law judge should have considered Ms. Kimble's “hoes” reference, said the court.
The judge was also wrong in holding Ms. Kimble could keep her head cook job, said the ruling. The case “does not involve conduct outside of the scope of Ms. Kimble's employment,” said the court. “Rather it directly involves her conduct with students in the course of her employment.
“When parents entrusted Ms. Kimble with their children Ms. Kimble was acting in her role as coach employed by the board … The board understandably expects that its employees will refrain from misconduct in all aspects of employment,” said the court, in overturning the lower court ruling calling for her reinstatement to the cook position, and affirming her termination from the coaching job.