Circuit Court Affirms Ruling in Coach’s Reverse Discrimination Case

Nov 4, 2005

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a district court’s finding that dismissed the claim of a white coach, who had alleged that he was a victim of reverse discrimination.
Specifically, the court found that the plaintiff had failed to satisfy the early threshold requirements necessary to prove a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.
Plaintiff Fred Riley was the head football coach and a physical education teacher at Ensley High School during the 2000-2001 school year. In April 2001 Evelyn Baugh, a black female and Ensley’s principal, made an advisory recommendation that the Birmingham Board of Education not renew Riley’s coaching contract.
The Board confirmed that recommendation and, later, approved Riley’s transfer to the position of assistant football coach and physical education teacher at Huffman High School.
Riley believed this to be a demotion and, thus, applied for the position of head football coach at Carver High School, which was also within the Board’s school district. Riley did not get the job as the Board selected Carver’s interim head coach, a black male, for the position.
Riley sued, claiming the Board discriminated against him in violation of § 1983 and Title VII. He also named Baugh as a defendant, claiming she was subject to individual liability under § 1983 for Riley’s non-renewal at Ensley.
In granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the district court concluded that Riley “had not established that there was a genuine issue of material fact that the Board’s articulated reasons for not renewing his Ensley coaching contract and not hiring him for the Carver coaching position were either a pretext for racial discrimination or were otherwise unworthy of credence. The district court further determined that Riley had not shown there was a genuine issue of material fact that his transfer to Huffman constituted constructive discharge from his employment with the Board.” The court also granted summary judgment to Baugh.
Riley appealed. One of the comments he cited as “direct evidence” was Baugh’s comment during a football team meeting that “we have to take care of our own because it is a hard world out there, and no matter what, people are going to look at us by our skin color.”
The appeals court disagreed, noting that “the comment was made during a football team meeting, not during the decision-making process. An inferential step would have to be made before concluding the statement was race-based.”
Riley also argued that “there is circumstantial evidence that the Board did not renew his coaching contract on the basis of his race. We use the familiar McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework to determine whether there is circumstantial evidence that would allow the fact finder to infer discrimination. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 1824 (1973); [*6] Bass, 256 F.3d at 1103.
The court wrote that it did not need “to decide whether Riley has established a prima facie case because we conclude that he has failed to show there is a genuine issue of material fact that each of the Board’s articulated reasons for Riley’s non-renewal was a pretext or was unworthy of credence.”
Riley also alleged that the Board violated Title VII by not hiring him as the Carver head coach” and that “the Board’s many articulated reasons for not selecting him for the position were either a pretext for racial discrimination or were unworthy of credence.” Again, the court found Riley’s contention that his “non-hiring was a pretext” to be wanting.
It cited as an example the Board’s proffered reason that Riley’s interview went poorly. It wrote that “we have previously concluded that an employer’s view that an interview went poorly was a legitimate reason for not hiring an individual. See Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1033 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Id.”
Next, it reviewed Riley’s contention that “he was constructively discharged in violation of Title VII because he received a demeaning demotion by being moved from head coach at Ensley to assistant coach at Huffman. To prove constructive discharge, Riley must show that the Board imposed working conditions that were ‘so intolerable that a reasonable person in [the employee’s] position would have been compelled to resign.’ Fitz v. Pugmire Lincoln-Mercury, Inc., 348 F.3d 974, 977 (11th Cir. 2003).” Riley has not shown that his working conditions at Huffman were “intolerable.”
Riley’s final appeal was that the Board is liable under § 1983 “because Baugh was a final policymaker and her discretion became the official policy of the Board. Riley also contends that Baugh is liable under § 1983 because she was a final decision maker and is not entitled to qualified immunity.
“We have observed that when § 1983 is used as “a parallel remedy” to Title VII, the elements of the two causes of action are the same. See Snider v. Jefferson State Cmty. Coll., 344 F.3d 1325, 1328 n.4 (11th Cir. 2003) (emphasis omitted). As we have previously explained, the district court properly granted summary judgment against Riley on his Title VII claim. Thus, even assuming that Baugh is a policymaker under § 1983, the Board is not liable under § 1983. See id. For the same reasons, even assuming that Baugh is a decision maker under § 1983 and not entitled to qualified immunity, she is not liable under § 1983. See id.”
Fred E. Riley, Jr. v. Birmingham Board Of Education, A Municipal Entity, Evelyn Baugh, An Individual; 11th Cir.; No. 05-10171; 9/30/05
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) John David Saxon and Stephen Jared Austin of John D. Saxon, P.C., Birmingham. (for defendants) Joi C. Scott, Thomas, Means, Gillis & Seay, P.C., Birmingham; Claire Hyndman Puckett, and Carl E. Johnson, Jr. of Bishop, Colvin, Johnson & Kent, Birmingham; Kenneth L. Thomas of Thomas, Means & Gillis, P.C., Montgomery.


Articles in Current Issue