Ninth Circuit Reverses and Remands Lower Court’s Decision to Grant Summary Judgment in Favor of Defendant in Title IX Retaliation Case

Nov 18, 2022

By Lauren Rosh

For a plaintiff to allege a prima facie case of a retaliation claim related to Title IX, they must do so by satisfying three elements: “(1) plaintiff was “engaged in [a] protected activity”; (2) plaintiff “suffered an adverse action”; and (3) a “causal link” between the first two elements.”

After Bennett MacIntyre, the head coach for both the men’s and women’s golf teams at Carroll College spoke to school officials about what he perceived to be gender inequity within the college’s athletic department, the college allegedly refused to renew his contract. The United States District Court for the District of Montana granted summary judgment in 2021 for Carroll College, the named defendant in this case, after determining that MacIntyre did not allege a prima facie case of retaliation. However, in September 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded this decision.

Carroll College employed MacIntyre from 2006 to 2018. He first served as a community living director, then later he became an associate athletics director while serving as the head coach for the men’s and women’s golf teams until 2016 when he stepped into the role of head coach full time.

MacIntyre guided Carroll to several successes, including recently leading the women and the men to a fourth-place finish and a fifth-place finish, respectively, in the 2019 Conference Championship.

According to the factual background from the appellate case, MacIntyre filed his employee self-evaluation that he stated aimed to “assist Carroll Athletics in becoming Title IX compliant.”

A few months later in January of the following year, the head coach spoke to the Title IX coordinator about the topic and alleged workplace harassment, hostile work environment, and discrimination. MacIntyre made those allegations saying they involved the Interim Director of Athletics, Kyle Baker, and the President of the college, Tom Evans.

When Baker submitted his performance review of MacIntyre, he gave him the lowest possible scores prompting the head coach to file a formal grievance with some of those allegations.

Again, according to the appellate background information, as an informal way of resolving the complaints the parties signed a settlement where the school agreed to “(1) remove Baker’s negative review from MacIntyre’s file, (2) pay MacIntyre $15,000 in back pay, (3) and hire MacIntyre as a full-time golf coach under a two-year employment contract.”

MacIntyre signed the contract, which was effective from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2018. After the stated term was up, Carroll College did not renew the contract. According to the case, the school said that the lack of renewal was due to budget cuts. The case further elaborates that Lori Peterson, Vice President of Finance, Administration and Facilities, emailed the athletic director at the time, Charlie Gross, asking whether they needed a head coach for golf or if it was a stipend position.

The school switched the golf head coach to a stipend role and MacIntyre’s pay subsequently decreased.

In June 2018, MacIntyre then filed another grievance regarding Title IX violations that launched the current judicial process between these two parties.

According to the Carroll College athletics website, MacIntyre still serves as the head coach of the program, not on a contract, however, as it is still considered a stipend position. In August 2022, the athletic department published a press release in which MacIntyre announced the six new signees for both the men’s and women’s teams.

United States District Judge Sam Haddon granted the summary judgment in 2021because he believed “no reasonable person would conclude from the record before the Court that non-renewal of the written, fixed-term contract, which, by its terms, expired after having been performed in compliance with its terms, constituted actionable adverse action.”

However, the appellate court found that the district court incorrectly concluded that the lack of renewal did not provide enough evidence to formulate a prima facie case for Title IX. The appellate court ruled that although Carroll College was not legally obligated to offer the contract renewal to MacIntyre, its decision not to, according to the appellate opinion, “may be an adverse action because it is ‘reasonably likely to deter employees from engaging in protected activity.’” Ray v. Henderson, 217 F.3d 1234, 1237 (9th Cir. 2000).

Because of this, the appellate court remanded the case to the district court. Now, the lower court will be positioned to evaluate the evidence and determine if there is a genuine issue of fact for the case to move forward.

Note: The attorneys working on both sides of this case did not respond to comment when Hackney Publications reached out due to the ongoing nature of this case.