The Constitutional claim of a high school teacher, who sought to continue coaching even though his teaching contract was not renewed, was dismissed by a federal judge over the spring.
Michael R. Ladner had alleged unsuccessfully that the Hancock County School District violated Fourteenth Amendment equal protection and substantive and procedural due process rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 when it did not decide to renew his coaching contract.
Ladner was employed as a teacher at the Hancock County High School during the 2006-2007 school year pursuant to a standard licensed/certified teaching contract on a form approved by the Mississippi State Board of Education. Ct. R. 30-2. In addition, he executed a separate contract for his coaching position, which was not on a form approved by the Mississippi State Board of Education. Ct. R. 30-3. Instead, the coaching contract specifically stated that it was “separate and distinct” from his teaching contract, could be terminated at any time by either party.
In accordance with the requirements of the state’s Education Employment Procedures Law of 2001, the school district notified the plaintiff that he would not be re-employed for the 2007-2008 school year because he did “not possess a valid teacher license for the ensuing school year.” The plaintiff timely completed his certification requirements, and the School District eventually renewed his teaching contract after the instant lawsuit was filed, making that portion of the plaintiff’s lawsuit moot.
When the School District renewed the plaintiff’s teaching contract, it did not renew the basketball coaching contract. The latter decision was not unexpected, as the athletic director had already asked the plaintiff to consider resigning as basketball coach.
Ladner, however, alleged that the School District “ran afoul of the EEPL by failing to provide notice of nonrenewal of the basketball coaching contract,” introducing the aforementioned Constitutional claims. The School District countered that “there is no Constitutional violation because the express terms of the coaching contract relieved it from any obligation to comply with the EEPL, and furthermore, the contract was for a position not within the purview of the EEPL.”
The court seemed to agree, noting that when the school district notified the plaintiff that his teaching contract would not be renewed that it also provided sufficient notice that the coaching contract would not be renewed.
“The Court finds no requirement in the EEPL or the case law that the school district must list each contract the District intends not to renew,” the court wrote. “The plaintiff was notified that he would not be re-employed with the District, which seems sufficient to meet the legislative objectives of the EEPL in regard to both contracts. 2 The Court therefore cannot agree with Plaintiff’s contention that he did not receive notice that his basketball coaching contract would not be renewed.”
“However, even if the plaintiff did not receive notice of nonrenewal of his coaching contract, he cannot show that notice was required. As noted above, the plaintiff’s basketball coaching contract contained express language exempting it from the EEPL.”
The court then turned to another one of the plaintiff’s arguments that “the coaching contract must be subject to the EEPL because a Mississippi high school coach is required by the Mississippi High School Activities Association, Inc., to have a teaching certificate. In the plaintiff’s view, the Association’s rule brings the plaintiff’s coaching contract within the purview of the EEPL, despite the undisputed fact that there is no ‘coaching’ certificate issued by the State Board of Education. In support of his argument, the plaintiff cites to Burks v. Amite County School District, 708 So. 2d 1366 (Miss. 1998).
“The relevant portion of the opinion states:
“This Court has not addressed whether a school employee who is non-renewed in a position for which no certificate is required is nevertheless covered by the School Employment Procedures Law because the employee’s other position does require a certificate. For the law to be applicable, two conditions must be satisfied. First, one must be among the group sought to be protected. Second, one must hold a valid certificate as a prerequisite to employment. Burks was a librarian in the school district and was required to hold a valid certificate as a prerequisite to his employment, thus satisfying the definition of employee for his position as a librarian. He did not acquire a certificate for the position of coordinator of the federal Drug-Free Schools program, however. Burks, 708 So. 2d at 1369.
“It appears that the court held that Burks did not satisfy the EEPL definition of employee for his position as a coordinator of the federal Drug-Free Schools Program because he did not have a certificate for that position. There is no further discussion of the issue, and the court goes on to discuss the racial discrimination component of Burks’s claims. Thus, if anything, the Burks case is simply support for the general principle that only contracts for positions requiring a teaching certificate issued by the Board of Education are subject to the provisions of the EEPL.”
Michael R. Ladner v. Hancock County School District; S.D.Miss.; CAUSE NO. 1:07CV901 LG-JMR, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30490; 4/8/08
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Chester D. Nicholson of Nicholson and Nicholson, Gulfport, MS. (for defendant) Roderick Mark Alexander, Jr., Balch & Bingham, LLP – Gulfport, Gulfport, MS.