Appeals Court Affirms Discrimination Ruling in Favor of Basketball Coach

Jan 5, 2007

A Missouri state appeals court has affirmed the judgment of a trial court, which concluded that a school district discriminated against an assistant basketball coach on the basis of his race when it elected not to renew his coaching contract.
The panel of judges wrote, specifically, that “the evidence of disparate treatment as well as the inconsistencies in the evidence could certainly lead a reasonable jury to believe that (the plaintiff had) made a submissible case of discrimination against (the school district). Therefore, the trial court correctly denied (its) motion for a directed verdict.”
Sylvanus McBryde became an assistant basketball coach at Ritenour High School in 2000 and continued in that capacity until 2003. At his hiring, McBryde was told by Head Basketball Coach Jason Graves “that he needed a black assistant coach who could relate to the black players on his team,” wrote the court.
While the basketball season started in October of each year, McBryde was never given a signed contract at the beginning of the season, like the other assistant coach, who was white.
McBryde’s dismissal was precipitated by his alleged handling of an open gym night on May 15, 2003. That night, a fracas occurred between students and adults. McBryde was the only school official present at the open gym. McBryde reported the incident that night to an assistant principal at Ritenour.
Even after a report was filed, Assistant Superintendent David Hoefakker was dismayed with McBryde, recommending that he be excluded from the school district. Central to that ruling, allegedly, was an unwritten rule that only students may participate in open gym. Whether McBryde actually knew about the rule was in dispute.
McBryde first filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights. Both agencies issued Right to Sue letters to McBryde.
The case was tried by a jury from April 4, 2005 through April 7, 2005. During the trial, Ritenour moved for a Directed Verdict at the close of McBryde’s evidence and again at the close of all the evidence. The trial court denied both motions. The jury returned a verdict for McBryde and awarded him damages and attorney fees. The school district appealed.
The appeals court noted the district’s practice of not tendering McBryde’s coaching contract until mid-season, while the other assistant always received his contract before the season began. “McBryde also established that white coaches were disciplined with verbal reprimands while he received an immediate suspension,” wrote the court. There were also inconsistencies about whether McBryde truly knew that non-students were not allowed to participate in the open gym night.
Sylvanus Brian McBryde v. Ritenour School District; Ct. App.Mo., East. Dist., Div. 4; No. ED86592, 2006 Mo. App. LEXIS 1478; 10/3/06
Attorneys of Record: (for appellant) Thomas A. Mickes, Natalie A. Hoernschemeyer, Chesterfield, MO. (for respondent D. Eric Sowers, Ferne P. Wolf, St. Louis, MO; Penney R. Rector (Amicus Curiae), Jefferson City, MO.


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