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Diverse Dockett: Ex-LSU Coach Loses in Court

A court ruled that former LSU tennis coach Tony Minnis failed to demonstrate that the university’s explanations for its actions were a pretext for discrimination.A court ruled that former LSU tennis coach Tony Minnis failed to demonstrate that the university’s explanations for its actions were a pretext for discrimination.

Tony Minnis, the first Black head coach in Louisiana State University history, lost too many games. Then he lost his job. And now he’s lost another round in his race discrimination and retaliation lawsuit.

A panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously refused to reinstate a suit stemming from non-renewal of the contract in 2012 after 21 years and his replacement at a higher salary by a White woman.

He failed to demonstrate that LSU’s explanations for its actions were a pretext for discrimination, the court held.

According to the decision, LSU hired Minnis as head coach of the women’s tennis team in 1991. During his tenure, the team struggled, securing only three winning records in the SEC.

“His overall SEC win-loss record was 86-146. During his last four years at LSU, his total SEC win-loss record was 16-27,” the court noted.

When he lost the job, Minnis was being paid $85,000 a year. His replacement, who had never been a head coach but was being heavily recruited by the University of South Carolina, came on board at a base salary of $110,000.

Minnis’ suit accused LSU of racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation under Title VII, retaliation under Title IX, plus state law violations. A lower-court judge dismissed the case without trial.

In its decision, the appeals panel found that LSU adequately explained its “legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for the disparity in pay” between Minnis and his White replacement. Those reasons were his lack of a “competitive record that would justify merit increases,” a comparison of his performance with that of other SEC women’s tennis coaches and his salary base when he was hired.

Next, the court rejected the discriminatory discharge claim, citing LSU’s expressed rationale for termini nation: the fact he did not meet established goals, a losing record, NCAA violations and morale problems within the team.

Nor did Minnis establish the existence of a race-based hostile work environment or retaliation, it said. There was no showing that his performance evaluations and reprimands constituted harassment based on race, it said, or that his complaints to university officials about practice facilities related to gender inequality.

Trial not option

A former Marymount Manhattan College student who did not graduate because she failed one course will not get a trial in her disability discrimination case.

That’s because a federal judge in New York City said she failed to provide medical testimony that she suffers from a blood disorder called thalassemia and that the college unreasonably refused to accommodate her.

Heather Grabin was a communication arts major enrolled from September 2008 through December 2010, when she was scheduled to graduate, according to the decision. She failed one course during her last semester for too many unexcused absences and insufficient points on class assignments, denying her enough credits to graduate.

Grabin claimed that her health condition was the reason for absences and hospitalizations to treat an E. coli infection and tonsillitis during that semester. She unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the instructor and college administrators to allow her to make up work and, thus, pass the course.

In rejecting the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act suit, U.S. District Judge Katherine Failla said Grabin’s failure to offer expert testimony was fatal to the case because such evidence is necessary to demonstrate that she is disabled and that her impairment “substantially limits” a major life activity.

Grabin’s own testimony about her medical condition is insufficient to send the case to a jury, Failla said, and there was only a “supposition tying her putative condition of thalassemia to her 2010 hospitalization.” In addition, her “transitory conditions” of E. coli infection and tonsillitis can’t be tied to an alleged disability because they don’t qualify as disabilities, the judge said.

Defense prevails

A University of Washington management professor who was twice passed over for promotion and tenure has lost his race, national origin, sex and age discrimination suit against the university and several administrators.

A federal judge in Seattle sided with defense in the Title VII case filed by Dr. Timothy Hargrave, who is White. He was hired in 2006 as a tenure-track assistant professor in the Bothwell School of Business.

According to U.S. District Judge James Robart, external evaluators and tenured department faculty split on whether to recommend tenure during his 2011-12 application, when he had only four peer-reviewed journal articles on his CV, plus two under review. The dean recommended against tenure, the campus council voted in favor of tenure and the provost postponed a decision for a year.

Hargrave fared even less well in 2012-13 after neither of his pending articles was accepted and there were more votes against him by external evaluators and senior faculty.

The suit alleged that discrimination was the reason why the university treated him less well than three other business faculty members. Two men were born outside the United States—in Colombia and India—and the third was a U.S.-born White woman. In part, Hargrave contended that Indian faculty members showed favoritism toward colleagues of Indian background.

Hargrave was 52 when his amended court complaint was filed in 2014. The two male colleagues were about 10 years younger than Hargrave, and the woman, who resigned after her tenure decision was also postponed for a year, was three years older.

The university denied discrimination, asserting that “it properly declined to award tenure to Hargrave on the basis that his scholarship was deficient,” Robart said.

In his ruling, Robart wrote that, even if the “relative suitability” of the other three faculty members “is debatable, no reasonable factfinder would find that Hargrave’s qualifications are “clearly superior” to theirs.

He also dismissed Hargrave’s breach-of-contract claim.

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