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Eleventh Circuit concludes no racial discrimination when employee was hired by same School Board that fired him, and offered a contract renew before termination

Flowers v. Troup Cnty. Sch. Dist., No. 14-11498 (11th Cir. Oct. 16, 2015)

Short:

In Flowers v. Troup Cnty. Sch. Dist., the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on behalf of the School District regarding a former employee’s claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq., asserting racial discrimination. The Court noted that though the employee produced sufficient evidence for a jury to infer unfair treatment, he was unable to produce evidence to show the treatment was racially motivated.

Long:

In Flowers v. Troup Cnty. Sch. Dist., the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on behalf of the School District regarding a former head football coach of the Troup High School’s claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq., and §1981 and §1983 of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, asserting racial discrimination. Troup High School District’s Board of Education extended Plaintiff Charles Flowers an at-will, one-year contract on August 1, 2010, for head football coach. Flowers was the School District’s first black head football coach since the District’s racial desegregation in 1973. Flowers agreed to coach as a part-time, “49% employee,” and was able to coach while receiving retirement benefits.  Seven months before being officially hired, Flowers began assuming duties, which included work outs and practices, while the administrators engaged in “an unusually intensive background check,” with a focus on potential recruiting violations.  The School District confirmed his employment when the background check was complete and clean. Flowers assumed additional duties with the School District under subsequent contracts, and was offered a second year-long contract to serve as Assistant Athletic Director. After Flowers was hired, the School District updated their policies regarding athletic eligibility and improper recruiting, called the “Charles Flowers Policy,” after receiving allegations of recruiting violations against Flowers. An investigation ensued. On February 16, 2012, Flowers was terminated by the Superintendent, which was approved by the School Board.

Upon review of the School District’s Motion for Summary Judgment, the district court granted the Motion, concluding that Flowers failed to rebut the School District’s proffered reason for terminating him as pretext for racial discrimination, using the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that while Flowers produced sufficient evidence for a jury to infer unfair treatment and that the investigation could have been “pretext for something,” he was unable to produce evidence to show the treatment was racially-based. The Court noted that the only evidence Flowers offered about his race was that he was the first black football coach, but underscored that the School District hired Flowers knowing of his race, and rehired him for a second year. The Court also emphasized that Flowers’ proof of the School District’s contradiction regarding the asserted reason for termination, alone, is highly suggestive of pretext, but does not support an inference of unlawful discrimination – rather, the contradiction must be combined with other evidence.

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Florida 561-653-0008 California 213-377-5200
* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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