Court Dismisses Coaching Discrimination Claim in El Paso

Aug 17, 2007

A discrimination claim brought by an African American male, who was denied a position as a head basketball coach in the El Paso Independent School District despite more coaching experience than the other applicant, has been dismissed after the court granted the defendant’s summary judgment motion.
Specifically, the court found that plaintiff Roshern Amie failed to show that the defendant’s proffered reason for hiring the other candidate – that he had a strong teaching background – was a pretext for a discriminatory reason.
Amie has been employed with EPISD as a both a teacher and a coach since 1984. In 1989, he became the head varsity basketball coach, and a physical education teacher, at Andress High School. In nine seasons at Andress, the plaintiff’s teams won two district championships, three bi-district championships, and held a top ten ranking in Texas. 3
In 1997, the plaintiff was relieved of his coaching duties and transferred to Canyon Hills Middle School. The plaintiff has not held a coaching position, in any capacity, since March of 1997. In 2001, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against EPISD alleging racial discrimination, after he was not selected for other coaching positions. That suit was settled in May of 2003, when the plaintiff and EPISD executed a “Release of All Claims” and settlement agreement.
Two years later, the plaintiff applied and interviewed for the head varsity basketball coach at Bowie High School. However, Peter Morales, who is Hispanic and had not previously served as a head basketball coach, was hired as the new coach. The emphasis for Bowie, noted the court, was “to ensure that student athletes did well in the classroom and on the basketball court. At the time of the hiring process, Bowie’s students had low performance ratings in reading and math, and a high dropout and pregnancy rate. All candidates interviewed for the Bowie position were deemed qualified and had some basketball coaching experience. The Bowie Hiring Committee took notes on each applicant’s answers and enthusiasm for the job, and found Morales to be their top choice.”
The plaintiff sought and obtained a “Right to Sue” letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. On February 24, 2006, he sued, alleging that EPISD engaged in discriminatory and retaliatory activity, pursuant to Title VII of the Civic Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.A § 2000e-2(a), et seq. (West 2003), and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act. See TEX. LAB. CODE ANN. § 21.051, et seq. (Vernon 2006). The plaintiff sought actual and punitive damages in addition to back pay, front pay, interest, and attorney fees.
On March 21, 2006, the defendant successfully transferred the case to federal court, where it filed a summary judgment motion.
The court noted that under McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973) and its progeny, a plaintiff seeking to establish a prima facie case of discrimination “must show (1) that he is a member of a protected class, (2) that he applied for an available position, (3) that he was qualified for that position when he applied, (4) that he was not selected, and (5) that the defendant promoted someone else who was not a member of the protected class. Davis v. Chevron USA, Inc., 14 F.3d 1082, 1085 (5th Cir. 1994).
“(The) plaintiff has provided the court with sufficient evidence to establish that he, as an African American, is a member of a protected class, and that he was qualified for the Bowie job — as all applicants were screened for minimum qualifications before being interviewed. (The) plaintiff further establishes that he was not selected for the job, and that EPISD promoted someone who is not a member of the protected class, as Morales is not African American. As such, the Court finds that Plaintiff has met the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination. See id.
“Having found that (the) Plaintiff has met his initial burden, the burden of production shifts to EPISD to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for not promoting Plaintiff. See Meinecke, 66 F.3d at 83. EPISD’s stated reason for not promoting (the) plaintiff is that the selection process and criteria were job related and consistent with a business necessity. EPISD states that since Bowie was underperforming in reading and math skills, its focus was for student athletes to do well in the classroom and on the basketball court. The committee, relying upon both classroom and basketball experience, determined Morales was the most impressive and qualified candidate. The Court finds that EPISD has articulated a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its action. See St. Mary’s Honor Ctr., 509 U.S. at 507. Thus, the inference of discrimination necessarily drops out and the burden shifts to Plaintiff to show pretext. See Bauer, 169 F.3d at 966.
“The Court must now determine whether (the) plaintiff has raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether EPISD’s proffered nondiscriminatory reason is pretext for discrimination.
“(The) plaintiff attempts to show pretext by stating that his ‘resume and qualifications are far superior’ to Morales. However, Plaintiff relies nearly entirely on Wever’s stricken Affidavit for this proposition. EPISD argues that (the) plaintiff does not raise a fact issue with respect to pretext because the record is devoid of admissible evidence of pretext. The Court agrees with EPISD.
“It is well settled that anti-discrimination laws are not intended to be vehicles for judicial second-guessing of employment decisions. Walton v. Bisco Indus., Inc., 119 F.3d 368, 372 (5th Cir. 1997).”
Further, “anti-discrimination laws do not protect against business decisions that a plaintiff believes to be unfair or unwise, only against decisions motivated by unlawful animus. See Nieto v. L & H Packing Co., 108 F.3d 621, 624 (5th Cir. 1997). ‘While an employer’s judgment or course of action may seem poor or erroneous to outsiders, the relevant question is simply whether the given reason was a pretext for illegal discrimination.’ Nix v. WLCY Radio, 738 F.2d 1181, 1187 (11th Cir. 1984) (citing Megill v. Bd. of Regents, 541 F.2d 1073, 1077 (5th Cir. 1976)). Evidence of pretext alone may, but not always, sustain a fact-finder’s determination of unlawful discrimination. See Reeves, 530 U.S. at 148 (holding that ‘a plaintiff’s prima facie case, combined with sufficient evidence to find that the employer’s asserted justification is false, may permit the trier of fact to conclude that the employer unlawfully discriminated’). In particular, evidence of pretext is not enough where the plaintiff has created only a weak issue of fact as to whether the employer’s reason is untrue, and there is ‘abundant and uncontroverted independent evidence that no discrimination occurred.’ Id.
“Here, (the) plaintiff has not created an issue of fact as to whether EPISD’s proffered reason is untrue. (The) plaintiff merely asserts that he was the ‘most qualified’ candidate, ostensibly because had more coaching experience than Morales. … However, coaching experience was only a part of the committee’s analysis. (The) plaintiff ignores the committee’s rationale that focused on the applicant’s ability to foster academic success.”
The court concluded that the plaintiff “has failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to the pretextual nature of EPISD’s stated reason for not promoting Plaintiff.”
Roshern Amie v. El Paso Independent School District; W.D. Tex.; EP-06-CA-113-DB, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39749; 4/24/07
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Lark House Fogel, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of Lark Fogel, Elizabeth, CO. (for defendant) Bruce A. Koehler, S. Anthony Safi, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Mounce, Green Myers Safi Paxson & Galatzan, P.C., El Paso, TX.


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