Fired High School Coach Sues, Alleges Homophobic Discrimination

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday September 30, 2021

A California high school cheer coach who was abruptly fired earlier this year despite having received a positive evaluation has filed suit against the school district, local news site The Press-Enterprise reports.

The suit, filed by Michael Henderson against Murrieta Valley Unified School District on Sept. 22, alleges "discrimination based on sexual orientation, a failure to create an environment free from harassment and emotional distress," The Press-Enterprise detailed.

"Jaci Clawson, a Murrieta Valley Unified parent whom he alleges wrote an anonymous letter that led to his firing, is also being sued."

The article went on to detail that, "According to the suit, the letter writer alleged Henderson was 'incompetent in his position, had a poor work ethic/attitude, was abusive to children, was homosexual.'"

The article quoted Henderson as saying, "She's made comments to other coaches ... 'I'm going to take Mike down' was a common theme."

"She didn't like the decisions that I was making," Henderson added. "I think a lot of it was fueled by me not favoring her daughter."

The lawsuit, the news site reported, alleges that, following the receipt of the anonymous letter, "Board member Paul Diffley, [Murrieta Valley High Athletic Director] Darin Mott and [Principal] Ryan Tukua began conducting an investigation into Henderson's own personal conduct and communication with a gay male athlete who had been suicidal back in October 2019 which took place while Henderson was teaching at a private facility called Cartwheels on his personal time."

"Henderson's dismissal came eight days after an enthusiastic end-of-the-year job review by Mott and Tukua, he said, which included an ironic-in-hindsight warning," the news site recounted.

"They were talking about how our program is — or was — one of the top three programs on the campus, and to be careful, because when you're on top, people will find ways to bring you down," the article quoted Henderson as saying.

"It's crazy how everything worked out."

As previously reported at EDGE, Henderson spoke about his dismissal not long after it happened, telling Patch, "I never saw the letter" that was sent in anonymously.

"I wasn't even given a chance to respond," Henderson added. "I was never interviewed about any of it."

Kim Altenhofel, the parent of a cheer team member who also serves as "president of the school's cheer booster club," told Patch that "she was contacted twice by Tukua" and once by Murrieta Valley Unified School District Trustee Paul Diffley "as part of the investigation into Henderson," with the story adding that "the investigation seemed to center on allegations of verbal and mental abuse by Henderson."

Altenhofel expressed skepticism about those allegations. She told Patch that the students on the cheer team "loved him" and that "they are heartbroken."

Indeed, a group of students — and parents, also — rallied on July 14 to show their support and to demand that Henderson be returned to his position as coach.

"About 24 students dressed in school colors and carrying signs that read 'Bring Back Coach Mike' stood outside the school building showing their support," Queerty said.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.