High school student told she was 'too dark' to perform with dance team, lawsuit claims

Camille Sturdivant claims she was told she's "too dark" to perform in a dance.

January 20, 2019, 4:35 PM

A young woman is suing a school district in Kansas for discrimination and retaliation, claiming she was told she couldn't perform with the dance team because her skin was "too dark," according to a lawsuit.

Camille Sturdivant was one of two African-American members on the 14-person "Dazzlers" dance team at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park before graduating in May, according to the lawsuit filed Dec. 5 in the United States District Court in Kansas City, Kansas.

Back in July 2017, the team's choreographer acted "on behalf of and in conjunction with" the team's coach, Carley Fine, to exclude Sturdivant from performing in an upcoming dance after allegedly making a comment that "her skin was too dark and the audience would look at her and not the other dancers," the suit states.

Sturdivant claims in the suit that the choreographer also said her skin color "clashed with the color of the costumes."

That September, Sturdivant's parents met with the school's principal, Amy Murphy Pressly, to complain about their daughter being excluded from the dance, according to the lawsuit. Pressly allegedly told them that Fine could "pick whoever she wanted to perform in the dances," the suit states.

Sturdivant continued to have a spot on the team and was allowed to dance, though Fine was "dismissive" of her, according to the lawsuit. Then in May, shortly before graduation, Sturdivant was using Fine's cell phone to play music for the dance team when she saw text messages between the coach and the choreographer, the suit alleges.

She read the texts and was "sickened," the suit states.

The texts appear to discuss the fact that Sturdivant had recently received an acceptance letter from the University of Missouri and won a spot on the school's "Golden Girls" dance team, according to the court document.

"THAT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE. I'm so mad," the choreographer allegedly wrote.

"It actually makes my stomach hurt," Fine allegedly replied and then added, "Bc she's f----- black. I hate that."

PHOTO: Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, Kan., is pictured in a Google Maps Street View image captured in May 2018.
Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, Kan., is pictured in a Google Maps Street View image captured in May 2018.
Google Maps Street View

Sturdivant's parents showed the text message exchange to the school principal, according to the suit. Fine was fired the following day and informed she could not be on school property nor have contact with Sturdivant or the other dancers, according to the suit.

But Sturdivant alleges the former coach was seen several times at school and with the "Dazzlers" since her termination.

Sturdivant also claims in the suit that the school principal informed her family that a team banquet, which had been paid for by all the parents of the "Dazzlers," was canceled. She says she later learned that Fine attended a dinner with all of the other dancers on the same evening as the canceled banquet.

Sturdivant alleges that a parent of one of the "Dazzlers," Katie Porter, who is a third-grade teacher at an elementary school within the same school district, participated in excluding Sturdivant from the dinner.

The lawsuit names Porter, Fine, Pressly and the Blue Valley Unified School District as defendants. Sturdivant is demanding a jury trial and is seeking an unspecified amount in "actual damages, compensatory and punitive damages."

The school district on Friday sent ABC News the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

"Respectful and meaningful relationships between staff and students are at the heart of Blue Valley’s culture. Discrimination of any kind has no place here. The District expects staff to treat all students with respect at all times, and any report that this expectation has not been fulfilled is taken very seriously. As stated in the Complaint, on May 1, 2018, Mrs. Sturdivant showed Dr. Pressly the text message between [the choreographer] and Ms. Fine. Ms. Fine’s employment with the District was separated the following day on May 2, 2018."

Porter, Fine and Pressly did not respond to ABC News' requests for comment.