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Oct. 16 — A black football coach for a high school in Georgia who was fired for allegedly recruiting ineligible students failed to show he was actually discharged because of his race, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled Oct. 16.
Affirming summary judgment in favor of Troup County School District and its officials, the Eleventh Circuit found that head football coach Charles Flowers may have produced sufficient evidence that he was treated unfairly, but he didn't show it was because of his race in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other federal anti-discrimination laws.
“When we hack back the thicket of factual disputes and excise Flowers’s conclusory allegations, we are left with nothing more than a routine disagreement between employer and employee,” Judge Gerald B. Tjoflat wrote for the court.
According to the court, Flowers was extended a one-year contract with Troup High School in August 2010, becoming the first black head football coach in the county since it was desegregated in 1973.
Prior to commencing his employment, Flowers said he was subjected to an “unusually intensive” background investigation that focused on potential recruiting violations. But his employment was confirmed when no violations were discovered.
The school district said it received seven letters from officials in a neighboring district during Flowers's first six months as head coach that questioned the eligibility of certain students to play for Troup. Allegedly, some of the Troup players lived in the neighboring district.
During an investigation of Flowers's recruiting practices, an investigator spoke with the owner of an apartment in Troup County where two football players lived. The apartment owner told the investigator that Flowers had paid their rent when their mother faced eviction.
At the end of the football season in February 2012, Superintendent Cole Pugh fired Flowers for committing recruiting violations.
In October 2012, Flowers filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia asserting that the school district's reason for terminating him was a pretext for race discrimination.
Adopting a magistrate judge's recommendation, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the school district. Flowers didn't point to any triable issues concerning the school district's alleged discriminatory intent, the court said.
The Eleventh Circuit agreed. “The School District’s ham-handed investigation and actions singling out Flowers could lead a reasonable jury to conclude that Pugh had it in for Flowers from the beginning,” the appeals court said. But Flowers didn't offer any evidence “outside of his own conclusory say-so” that the investigation was a pretext for discrimination, the court held.
Flowers argued that the school district provided more favorable treatment to two similarly situated white head football coaches at other schools in the county who allegedly committed recruiting violations. The white coaches had been flagged for allegedly making offers and giving cash and equipment to ineligible players, but they were not “intensely investigated” or fired, Flowers asserted.
But the appeals court said that Flowers's purported violations differed from the other coaches. The court pointed to the “intensity and frequency” of Flowers's alleged violations and the seven letters the school district received in his first six months of employment.
“The obvious differences between Flowers’s circumstances and those of his purported comparators are hardly the stuff of an apples-to-apples comparison,” the appeals court said, affirming summary judgment to the school district.
WoodlingLaw LLC represented Flowers. Hall Booth Smith PC represented the school district and its officials.
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Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/CHARLES_FLOWERS_Plaintiff__Appellant_versus_TROUP_
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