Court: Coach’s Age and Race Discrimination Claims Can Continue

Apr 10, 2009

A federal judge has denied a school district’s bid for summary judgment in a case where an African American coach claimed that it discriminated against him on the basis of his age and race when it failed to reappoint him to several coaching positions.
The court did, however, grant summary judgment to the district on the plaintiff’s retaliation claim, finding that given “the plaintiff’s failure to produce evidence of a similarly-situated employee, no reasonable jury would find that the plaintiff has established a prima facie case of retaliation.”
The events leading up to the claim are as follows: Robert Green, who is African-American, was born in 1955. He is a certified teacher and began working as a physical education teacher and coach for the East Aurora School District No. 131 in 1980. While working for the district, he coached football, boys’ and girls’ basketball, and track and field at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Green completed courses such as sports first aid and principles of coaching while employed with the District.
During the 2004-2005 school year, Jesus Barraza became the athletic director at Simmons. As AD, Barraza supervised the athletic programs and recommended teachers for coaching positions to Principal Randal Ellison.
Just before the start of the 2005 track and field season, Barraza asked Green to resign as head coach. Barraza stated that he told Green that he should resign because there had been several complaints about his coaching behavior. According to Barraza, Green promised to improve his behavior. Green contends that Barraza only mentioned that Green had failed to participate in two basketball-related events as the reason for requesting that he resign. Barraza relented and allowed Green to remain as track and field coach for the season.
In April 2005, Green filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging unlawful discrimination.
In the spring of 2005, Barraza asked teachers to inform him if they were interested in coaching during the next school year. Shortly thereafter, Green left a note for Barraza stating “I am interested in coaching next year!” Barraza, however, did not recommend Green for any coaching positions for the 2005-2006 school year, and Ellison did not appoint Green to any such positions.
Barraza recommended several other teachers for coaching positions that year. The courted noted three in particular, who had filled Green’s positions. The district’s policy requires that certified teachers be given a preference for coaching positions over non-certified teachers. Two of the teachers were not certified. In addition, the district’s policy stated that only teachers who had completed courses in sports first aid and coaching principles were eligible for coaching positions. While Green had successfully completed both courses, none of the new appointee had met that requirement.
The situation continued to disintegrate, coming to a head when on November 20, 2006, the district issued Green a notice to remedy. The notice was a formal disciplinary action, but it did not immediately affect Green’s salary or position. In the notice, the District identified four separate incidents of allegedly inappropriate behavior that it alleged violated District policy. In May 2005, two female contractors complained that Green had asked inappropriate personal questions. On April 5, 2005, a student complained that Green had asked her if she was a virgin. On October 25, 2006, another student complained that Green grabbed him and pushed him from a classroom. Four days later, identified as D.S., complained that Green had sexually harassed her. The notice to remedy ordered Green to remedy the allegedly unprofessional behavior or face discharge.
The District contends that each of the complaints was investigated and that each was found credible. Green contends that all the complaints were baseless and that some were contradicted by eyewitnesses. Ultimately, the district reassigned Green to that of in-school suspension teacher.
Green filed a suit on October 9, 2007, asserting three claims of discrimination in violation of the ADEA and Title VII: (1) a claim of age discrimination for the District’s failure to appoint him girls’ basketball coach, track and field coach, and wrestling coach; (2) a claim of race discrimination for the District’s failure to appoint him track and field coach, wrestling coach and football coach; and (3) a claim of retaliation for issuing him a notice to remedy, transferring him to the position of in-school suspension teacher, and failing to appoint him to a coaching position.
In deciding the age and race discriminations, the court found that “Green has shown that there is a genuine factual dispute with respect to the genuineness of his alleged record of misconduct and, therefore, with respect to whether that was the actual reason for the District’s actions. This, combined with the differential in experience and training between Green and the individuals appointed instead of him, is sufficient to create a genuine factual dispute over whether the district’s reasons for not appointing Green were pretextual.”
As noted previously regarding the retaliation claim, the court sided with the district, finding that “Green has not produced evidence that another employee who was found to have harassed a fellow employee was not reassigned. As a result, the District is entitled to summary judgment on Green’s retaliation claim concerning the November 2006 disciplinary actions.”
Robert E. Green v. East Aurora School District No. 131; N.D. Ill.; Case No. 07 C 5696, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9162; 2/5/09
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Arthur R. Ehrlich, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jonathan C. Goldman, Goldman & Ehrlich, Chicago, IL. (for defendant) Thomas J. Canna, LEAD ATTORNEY, Dawn Marie Hinkle, John F. Canna, Joshua R. Runnels, Canna and Canna, Ltd., Orland Park, IL.


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