Court Dismisses Claim of Former Associate Athletics Director Who Sued University for Wrongful Termination

Jun 7, 2019

A federal judge from the Eastern District of New York has dismissed the claim of an associate athletics director of academics/director of academic support program for student-athletes at North Carolina State University (NC State), who claimed he was subjected to discrimination and harassment from the school and its employees when he was wrongfully terminated in April 2015.
The judge based his finding on several procedural problems with the claim highlighted below.
Earlier this year, guest author Leah Brundidge, a first-year doctoral student with the Troy University sport management program, wrote about the claim, laying out the plaintiff’s arguments:
Plaintiff Jermaine Holmes was hired in this particular role in March 2014 after a 15-year career within athletics at Virginia Tech, The Ohio State University, and California State University-Fullerton. Upon his hire, Holmes performed an initial SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of the NC State athletics department to assess the department’s position in regard to its determined goals. At the completion of the SWOT analysis, Holmes discovered two alarming findings: (a) potential non-compliance of the University’s best practice policies and (b) violations of federal labor laws. Holmes learned that the daughter of an NC State men’s basketball coach was hired as a tutor for the department, which constituted a violation of the institution’s best practices and conflict of interest policies. He also discovered that the assistant coordinators for the department (known as interns), were being paid for 40 hours although they were averaging between 50-60 work hours per week. This was believed to be in violation of federal labor laws.
Holmes alerted the University’s human resource department about the issues concerning the interns. His concerns regarding the work/pay hours of the interns, as detailed in a memorandum dated June 2014, were in line with his concerns for the overall well-being of the institution’s “at-risk” student-athletes. The 2014 memorandum noted that the current practice of solely utilizing tutors to assist the increasing population of at-risk student-athletes was not ideal. It also noted that the aforementioned population was projected to grow by approximately 14 for the ensuing academic year.
Beginning in May 2014, Holmes and other employees at the institution shared several emails, reports, and meetings. One particular employee, Carrie Doyle, was named as a co-defendant in the complaint. At the time, Doyle was the Senior Associate Director of Compliance for NC State. Because of his concern with the interns, Holmes requested that the positions be converted to temporary administrative support-staff positions. He also suggested that the department hire a specialist to work with the growing population of at-risk student-athletes in the department. In a 2014 Tutor Oversight Report, Holmes highlighted potential NCAA violations and integrity issues related to the hiring of the men’s basketball coach’s daughter as a tutor for the department.
In April 2015, the plaintiff was removed from his position as the director of academic support program for student-athletes. Holmes, an African American male, alleged racial discrimination, harassment, and a hostile work environment by the defendant, NC State. The complaint details unfair and unequal treatment, public frustrations, verbal reprimands, and an abrupt removal from his role. Holmes was eventually replaced by Katie Sheridan, a white female.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
According to Steve Wiseman (2018), on Sept. 29, 2015, Holmes filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint against NC State. An official of the university assured Wiseman that NC State did not mishandle Holmes’ employment. Although the EEOC complaint was dismissed on March 11, 2016, Robert Lewis, Jr., Holmes’ attorney, was equally confident that the dismissal would not affect the Federal Court Case (Wiseman, 2018). The EEOC, a federal agency, is responsible for prohibiting workplace discriminations by enforcing respective laws (Doyle, 2019).
Section 1981 of Civil Rights Act
As an African American male, Holmes is protected from race discrimination and retaliation under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The complaint alleges that NC State allowed Holmes to endure a hostile work environment, be harassed and discriminated against, and that he was disciplined due to his race. The suit outlines examples of when Holmes’s integrity was questioned. The plaintiff accused Doyle and another staff member of sending memorandums to the University’s chancellor in regards to his integrity, an action that other members of the department did not receive. The case also explains that Holmes did not receive the same rights as spelled out in the institution’s employee handbook policy and procedures manual that other non-African American employees of the department received. For an example, Holmes asserts that he did not obtain coaching and training like the other non-black members of the department received.
Retaliation for Exercise of First Amendment Rights
In the complaint, Holmes outlined decisions made by NC State that were a result of him emailing athletics administrators on issues discovered from his SWOT analysis. The institution’s decisions were as followed: demoting Holmes in 2016, reassigning substandard equipment and office space, unfair removal, and failure to promptly and effectively address grievances and a hostile work environment. The case states that Holmes is asking for $75,000 for incurred and sustained damages and losses due to this treatment.
Equal Protection Pursuant to the 14th Amendment
As determined by the suit, Holmes suffered irreparable monetary damages and injury because of NC State’s discriminatory actions. As an African American male, Holmes did not receive equal protection and was singled out because of his race. The case points out that because the plaintiff was not treated in the favorable manner as that of the other employees within the department who were non-black, the employer’s discrimination was a violation of the 14th Amendment.
Tortious Interference with Contract
Doyle was believed to have known of Holmes’ oral contract with NC State. The case accuses Doyle of “intentionally and tortuously” prompting NC State from not performing the contract between the parties. Holmes believed that his contract was discharged as a form of retaliation due to him complaining to the human resource department about alleged racial discrimination. The complaint verbalizes that Doyle and the institution’s tortious conduct without legal justification was failure to protect the plaintiff’s rights. The complaint states that Holmes is entitled to $25,000 due to “past and future loss of earnings and benefits, and past and future mental and emotional distress, great worry, anxiety, and depression.”
Negligent Supervision and Retention
The suit states that NC State “knew or should have known of the pervasive and severe employment practices encouraged by upper management in the Athletics Department.” It also lists several duties that the institution possessed but failed to adequately perform. These duties included the following: the duty to investigate allegations, the duty to adequately supervise its employees, and the duty to protect the plaintiff from retaliation based on racial discrimination. Claims from the case suggest that Holmes was subject to harassment and discrimination due to the proximate and foreseeable actions and omissions of NC State.
Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
In the compliant, Holmes’s attorney listed several instances that NC State breached its duty to “operate in good faith and fair dealings with the plaintiff during their employer-employee relationship.” The complaint also accuses the institution of providing negative references in regards to Holmes’s future career opportunities. According to the complaint, the outrageous actions harmed Holmes’s reputation as well as caused him to suffer both mentally and physically.
Demands and Prayer for Relief
Holmes and his lawyer demanded that the courts grant a trial by jury. As of April 9, 2018, the plaintiff asked for favor in judgment of the aforementioned violations of federal laws, tortious contractual interference, and negligent claims. Additionally, Holmes and his lawyer asked for actual and consequential damages, compensatory damages, and punitive damages.
The defendants challenged the claims with a motion to dismiss pursuant Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which attacks the complaint’s legal and factual sufficiency.
Addressing the claims, the court wrote:
“Holmes first alleges disparate investigation and disparate discipline in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. ‘[T]he express cause of action for damages created by [section] 1983 constitutes the exclusive federal remedy for violation of the rights guaranteed in [section] 1981 by state governmental units. . . .’ Jett v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 733 (1989); see Dennis v. Cty. of Fairfax, 55 F.3d 151, 156 (4th Cir. 1995); Everett v. Redmon, No. 7:16-CV-323-D, 2017 WL 2313468, at *4 n.3 (E.D.N.C. May 26, 2017) (unpublished); White v. Gaston Cty. Bd. of Educ., No. 3:16-CV-552-MOC-DSC, 2017 WL 220134, at *4 (W.D.N.C. Jan. 18, 2017) (unpublished). Holmes cannot bring a ‘freestanding’ claim under section 1981 against NC State or against Mullen and Doyle in their official capacities. White, 2017 WL 220134, at *4. Accordingly, the court grants defendants’ motion to dismiss Holmes’s first claim.
“Second, Holmes alleges retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on Holmes’s exercise of his First Amendment rights. ‘[A] suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official’s office.’ Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70 (1989); see Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 27 (1991). ‘[N]either a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are `persons’ under [section] 1983.’ Will, 491 U.S. at 70; see DeCecco v. Univ. of S.C., 918 F.Supp.2d 471, 505-06 (D.S.C. 2013); Googerdy v. N.C. Agric. & Tech. State Univ., 386 F.Supp.2d 618, 625 (M.D.N.C. 2005). NC State, as part of North Carolina’s university system, is ‘an alter ego’ of the state of North Carolina. Googerdy, 386 F. Supp. 3d at 625. Similarly, Mullen and Doyle, as employees of NC State, are state officials. Defendants are therefore not ‘persons’ for purposes of section 1983. See Huang v. Bd. of Governors of Univ. of N.C., 902 F.2d 1134, 1139 n.6 (4th Cir. 1990); Joy v. Univ. of N.C. at Wilmington, No. 7:09-CV-136-BO, 2010 WL 2024094, at *1 (E.D.N.C. May 19, 2010) (unpublished). Alternatively, because North Carolina has not waived Eleventh Amendment immunity for section 1983 suits, the Eleventh Amendment bars Holmes’s section 1983 claim against NC State. See, e.g., Will, 491 U.S. at 71; Joy, 2010 WL 2024094, at *1. Accordingly, the court grants defendants’ motion to dismiss Holmes’s second claim.
“Third, Holmes alleges a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. ‘The Fourteenth Amendment does not create a direct cause of action.’ Costello v. Univ. of N.C. at Greensboro, 394 F.Supp.2d 752, 759 (M.D.N.C. 2005); see Hughes v. Bedsole, 48 F.3d 1376, 1383 n.6 (4th Cir. 1995); cf. Maisha v Univ. of N.C., No. 1:12-CV-371, 2013 WL 1232947, at *2 (M.D.N.C. Mar. 27, 2013) (unpublished), aff’d, 641 F. App’x 246 (4th Cir. 2016) (per curiam) (unpublished). Even if Holmes intended to bring his claim under section 1983, defendants are not ‘persons/ for the purpose of section 1983. Accordingly, the court grants defendants’ motion to dismiss Holmes’s third claim.”
To view the full opinion, visit:


Articles in Current Issue