Court Sides with University in Labor Dispute over Coach

Sep 24, 2004

A North Carolina appeals court has reversed a lower court in an employment law case, finding that a university that stripped “a recreation worker” of his coaching responsibilities and failed to deliver on a promised pay raise did not violate the State Personnel Act.
The key finding by the court was that the law was not broken because the plaintiff still had his existing job and had never experienced the higher salary.
The plaintiff, Michael T. Winbush, began working for the defendant, Winston-Salem State University, in 1994 as a “Recreation Worker II.” His primary responsibility was to coach football, as an assistant, and women’s softball. In the spring of 2000, he was commended for his coaching accomplishments and told he would receive an additional 10 percent raise, effective 1 July 2000.
That summer, however, the plaintiff got sideways with his supervisors when he failed to ask permission to operate a youth football camp. On July 1, 2000, he was stripped of his coaching duties and began serving as intramural coordinator, without change to his pay grade or Recreation Worker II status. He was also informed that he would not receive the promised raise in salary for his coaching accomplishments.
Later in the fall, he filed a petition for a contested case hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), claiming that he had been discharged or reassigned from his coaching duties without just cause. The administrative law judge (ALJ) presiding over the case concluded that the plaintiff was demoted without just cause. The State Personnel Commission (SPC) reversed that decision, finding for the defendant. The plaintiff appealed to the superior court. That court reversed the SPC, leading to the present appeal.
Upon review, the appeals court noted that the plaintiff had not been dismissed or demoted in his role as “Recreation Worker II.” Turning to the question of the raise, the court noted that the promised pay raise had not gone into effect at the time of the reassignment.
“Accordingly, the superior court erred in concluding that petitioner had been discharged without just cause,” wrote the court. Winbush v. Winston-Salem State University, Ct.App.N.C., No. COA03-891, 7/20/04
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Elliot Pishko Morgan, P.A., by Robert M. Elliot. (for defendant) Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Assistant Attorneys General Joyce S. Rutledge


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