Court Dismisses Retaliation Claim Against Coach

Jun 8, 2007

A federal judge has granted summary judgment to a high school basketball coach, who was accused of retaliating against a student-athlete for comments made by his mother.
Specifically, the court found that the plaintiffs, the mother and son, could not show a causal connection between the mother’s comments and Head Coach David Edinger’s decision to cut the player from the varsity basketball team.
The incident leading to the litigation occurred when the coach had a verbal altercation with students of another school, which was overheard by the plaintiff student athlete. Edinger challenged the students and called them “drug dealers and asked the students if they got their clothing from drug money. After this exchange the middle school students departed. After the middle school students left, Edinger also departed. Later, the middle school students returned with a parent. A physical altercation ensued.”
The plaintiff mother, Deborah Allen-Sherrod, heard about the language used during the confrontation, which took place in front of her son. She complained to the school district. When her son was cut from the varsity team the first day of tryouts, she sued, raising claims of race discrimination and race retaliation.
On March 31, 2006, the defendants filed their motion for summary judgment.
The court began its discussion of the issues by reviewing the plaintiff’s claims, which were based on 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, or violations of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Regarding the former, the court noted that the plaintiff “has failed to show a causal relation between Plaintiff Allen-Sherrod’s comments and the subsequent diminished playing time and the subsequent cutting of (her son) from the varsity team. Defendant Edinger specifically maintains that he did not learn of Plaintiff Allen-Sherrod’s comments until October 30, 2003, at the earliest, after (her son) had been cut from the varsity team.
”Plaintiff has not produced any evidence to rebut Defendant Edinger’s testimony. Plaintiff relies only on the close temporal proximity of the comments to the diminished playing time n4 and the decision to cut (the student athlete) and on the fact that Defendant Edinger could not put his finger on why he cut (the student athlete). This proximity in time and lack of specific reason is not circumstantial evidence of Defendant Edinger’s knowledge sufficient to rebut affirmative statements in his deposition.”
Thus, the court found that the plaintiff had failed to make a prima facie case of retaliation in violation of either 42 U.S.C. § 1981.
Turning to the other retaliation claim, the court noted that “to state a claim for retaliation for exercising their First Amendment rights a plaintiff must establish that: (1) His/her speech or act was constitutionally protected; (2) the defendant’s retaliatory conduct discourages the protected speech; and (3) a causal connection existed between the retaliatory conduct and the adverse effect on speech. Bennett v. Hendrix, 423 F.3d 1247, 1250 (11th Cir. 2005).
“Assuming, arguendo, that Plaintiff has shown the first two elements of retaliation violating the First Amendment, Plaintiff is unable to show that a causal connection existed between the retaliatory conduct and the adverse effect on speech. Just as stated above, without any evidence that Defendant Edinger knew of Plaintiff Allen-Sherrod’s statements prior to cutting Plaintiff Stallworth from the basketball team, there cannot be a causal connection between Plaintiff Allen-Sherrod’s statements and Defendant Edinger’s decisions with regard to Plaintiff Stallworth. Therefore, the court GRANTS Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for violations of the First Amendment.”
Deborah Allen-Sherrod, for her minor child, et al. v. Henry County School District and David Edinger, in his Individual Capacity; N.D. Ga.; Civil Action No. 1:05-CV-0600-JOF ; 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23376; 3/28/07
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Alysa Beth-Ann Freeman, Matthew C. Billips, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Miller & Billips, Atlanta, GA. (for defendant) Frank C. Bedinger, III, Hawkins & Parnell, Atlanta, GA.


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