Court Dismisses Discrimination Claim, While Sustaining Pay Disparity Bid

Nov 21, 2008

A federal judge from the Middle District of Georgia has granted in part and denied in part a defendant school district’s motion for summary judgment in a case where a plaintiff coach, who was an African-American, sued the district for discrimination after it hired a Caucasian coach for its athletic director position.
While the court viewed the district’s reasons for hiring the other coach as an AD as legitimate and non-discriminatory, it was less charitable with regard to the plaintiff’s other claim that the district unfairly paid the Caucasian coach more money for working out the football team during the summer, than it paid the plaintiff to work out the basketball team. It found specifically that the plaintiff’s claim “may be sufficient to persuade a jury that the School District’s stated reasons for the disparity in pay are not the real reasons and that the real reason is discrimination.”
In 2003, Plaintiff 58-year-old Clyde Zachery applied for the position of Athletic Director of the Crawford County School District. Three other individuals also applied for the position. The School District selected Tony Byrum, a white male in his mid-forties, for the position.
Zachery and Byrum had relatively equal amounts of coaching and teaching experience, which is what initiated Zachery’s interest in a lawsuit. Zachery also alleged that Bynum received more pay for overseeing student athletes in the school’s summer program.
Reviewing the Title VII-Disparate Treatment claim first, the court noted that “a plaintiff in a Title VII discrimination action bears the ultimate burden of proving that race was a determining factor in the challenged employment decision. A plaintiff may establish a case of discrimination through presentation of direct evidence of discriminatory intent or presentation of statistical evidence. Because direct evidence of discriminatory intent and statistical information are seldom available, plaintiff may raise a rebuttable presumption of intentional discrimination using the burden-shifting analysis set out in McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973), as refined by the decision in Tex. Dep’t of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S. Ct. 1089, 67 L. Ed. 2d 207 (1981).
“Zachery contends he can establish discrimination based on direct evidence. As support for this proposition, Zachery relies on the definition of direct evidence set forth in Wright v. Southland Corp., 187 F.3d 1287 (11th Cir. 1999). However, the Eleventh Circuit has never adopted the definition of direct evidence set forth in Wright. Instead, the Eleventh Circuit employs a much more rigorous definition of direct evidence, as explained in Damon v. Fleming Supermarkets of Fla., Inc., 196 F.3d 1354 (11th Cir. 1999), an age discrimination case:
‘We have defined direct evidence of discrimination as evidence which reflects a discriminatory or retaliatory attitude correlating to the discrimination or retaliation complained of by the employee. In other words, the evidence must indicate that the complained-of employment decision was motivated by the decision-maker’s ageism. As a result, only the most blatant remarks, whose intent could be nothing other than to discriminate on the basis of age will constitute direct evidence of discrimination.’
“Zachery has offered nothing that would constitute direct evidence under this heavy standard. Therefore, the Court will discuss each of Zachery’s claims separately under the circumstantial evidence standard.”
Additionally, the court pointed out that to make out a prima facie case of racial discrimination in “a failure-to-hire case using circumstantial evidence,” a plaintiff must demonstrate (1) he belongs to a protected class; (2) he applied and was qualified for a position for which the employer was accepting applications; (3) despite his qualifications he was not hired; and (4) the position remained open or was filled by another person outside of his protected class. EEOC v. Joe’s Stone Crabs, Inc., 296 F.3d 1265, 1273 (11th Cir. 2002).
The plaintiff met the four requirements, forcing the school district to “create a rebuttable presumption the employer unlawfully discriminated against him.”
“… Here, the School District contends that it had three legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for selecting Byrum over Zachery: (1) Byrum possessed outstanding qualifications for the job; (2) Byrum was a successful football coach and the School District believed that the Athletic Director position would provide Byrum with incentive to return to the School District to coach football; and (3) the School District was under pressure from the community to bring Byrum back to Crawford County.”
The court found the defendant’s reasons legitimate, shifting the burden to the plaintiff. Zachery failed to present evidence “sufficient to create a material issue of fact with regard to whether the reasons given by the School Board were not the real reasons for hiring Byrum over Zachery,” leading the court to grant summary judgment on the discrimination claim.
Turning to the disparate treatment in pay claim, the court did find that the School District’s stated reasons are sufficient to demonstrate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for paying the football coaches and the band director more money than that paid to the Boys Varsity Basketball head coach.
However, Zachery’s evidence that “he put in many hours during the summer, without getting comparable pay, may be sufficient to persuade a jury that the School District’s stated reasons for the disparity in pay are not the real reasons and that the real reason is discrimination. Thus, the Court finds Zachery has come forward with evidence sufficient to raise a jury issue as to whether the employer’s reasons for the disparity are not worthy of belief. And, as to Zachery’s claim for disparate treatment in pay based on race, the School District’s Motion for Summary Judgment is denied.”
Clyde Zachery v. Crawford County Board of Education; M.D.Ga.; Civil Action No. 5:06-cv-314 (HL); 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76781; 9/24/08
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Brenda Carol Youmas, LEAD ATTORNEY, Macon, GA. (for defendant) David Arthur Siegel, LEAD ATTORNEY, Travis C. Hargrove, Columbus, GA.


Articles in Current Issue