Parent Attacks Coach’s Credibility in Bid To Show Racial Animus

Dec 21, 2007

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a district court’s ruling that a plaintiff failed to prove that a coach acted with racial animus when the coach declined to name her son to the varsity basketball team.
The incident leading to the litigation occurred when Head Coach David Edinger had a verbal altercation with students of another school, which was overheard by the plaintiff’s son, a student athlete. Edinger challenged the students and called them drug dealers and thugs. He 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 between the parent and Edinger.
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 against the coach.
On March 28, 2007, a federal judge in the Northern District of Georgia granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff’s appeal followed.
On appeal, the mother challenged the coach’s credibility, citing “copious evidence that he was not to be believed and that he was an inveterate, if not pathological liar on a wide range of subjects.”
The district court had declined to consider the coach’s credibility on summary judgment, finding that the credibility issue upon which the mother relied was “a red herring.” The district court was correct in observing that it could not consider the coach’s credibility as a witness in ruling upon summary judgment. The district court could merely note that the coach’s statement put the question of whether or not he was on notice of the son’s participation in the incident, some eight months earlier, in issue in the case. That put the burden of proof of notice on the mother.
The appeals court affirmed that “there was no evidence presented by the mother that the coach knew that (1) the son had overheard heard him using derogatory language indicating racial animus at the time of the incident in February 2003; (2) he had told his mother about it; and (3) the mother had reported her son’s part in the matter when she complained of the incident the next day to high school administrators and a school board member.”
Deborah Allen-Sherrod et al v. Henry County School District; 11th Cir.; No. 07-11985; LEXIS 22504; 9/18/07
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Matthew C. Billips, Miller, Billips & Ates, P.C., ATLANTA, GA. (for defendant) Frank C. Bedinger, III, Brian Winfred Sprinkle, Hawkins & Parnell, LLP, ATLANTA, GA.


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