On August 31, 2012, a Kentucky high school coach that was fired in 2008 filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the school board. He had been employed by the school for 22 years as an assistant coach, and an additional 11 years as head coach of the boys’ basketball team. Despite his long tenure, eight district championships, and a 204-117 record, the school terminated him. His lawsuit claims he was a victim of age and race discrimination.
Kentucky is an “at-will” employment state. This term means that an employer can fire an employee whenever he pleases. However, there are certain situations in which the employee is protected. If the employer and employee signed an employment contract stating the employee has to remain employed for a certain length of time, then an employer cannot terminate the employee before the contract is up without valid reason. Otherwise, this would be a breach of contract. Union employees also have some protection against being fired at the whim of their employers.
A third type of protection for employees comes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination Act. These acts pertain to employees that belong to groups of people who have a history of being discriminated against because of certain characteristics such as their gender, race, religion, ethnicity, and age. If an employer terminates or otherwise negatively treats an employee based on one of these characteristics, the employee has been discriminated against and has the right to seek compensation from the employer.
Some discrimination lawsuits ask for lost income with interest, benefits, and awards for emotional distress, all of which are known as compensatory damages. Others also ask for additional money in an attempt to punish the company for its wrongdoing. This type of damages is called punitive damages, and they are often awarded to convince the employer not to discriminate against future employees.
In the Kentucky workplace discrimination case above, the coach that was fired claims he was discriminated against because of his race and age. He is African-American and was 61 when he was terminated. As evidence, he states that the person who replaced him was white and under 40 years old. Further, when the position became available again for the 2012-2013 season, the claimant applied for the position again but was not considered, and the job again went to a white male who was under 40. Rather than asking for lost wages and benefits, his lawsuit requests that he be reinstated to his position with the appropriate salary and same seniority he had before he was terminated.
The school district has denied the discrimination charges, claiming they received complaints from parents and students and that the coach had four losing seasons while he was the head coach. Unless the case settles before trial, it will be up to a jury to determine whether or not discrimination occurred. If you think you have been discriminated against, an experienced Kentucky employment lawyer can review your situation and determine if you have a case.
School Board Denies Allegations of Race and Age Discrimination by Former Coach; surfky.com; Casey Piscitelli; September 25, 2012
Former MNHHS Coach Sues School District, Cites Discrimination; surfky.com; Casey Piscitelli; September 7, 2012