803 F.3d 1327 (11th Cir. 2015), 14-11498, Flowers v. Troup County
|Citation:||803 F.3d 1327, 25 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. C 1722|
|Opinion Judge:||TJOFLAT, Circuit Judge|
|Party Name:||CHARLES FLOWERS, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. TROUP COUNTY, GEORGIA, SCHOOL DISTRICT, DR. COLE PUGH, individually and in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Troup County School District, JOHN RADCLIFFE, individually and in his official capacity as Assistant Superintendent of the Troup County School District, TED ALFORD, individually and in|
|Attorney:||For CHARLES FLOWERS, Plaintiff - Appellant: Ruth W. Woodling, WoodlingLaw, LLC, ATLANTA, GA. For TROUP COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant - Appellee: Kenneth Drew Jones, Russell A. Britt, Hall Booth Smith, PC, ATLANTA, GA. For COLE PUGH, Dr., individually and in his official capacity as Superinten...|
|Judge Panel:||Before TJOFLAT and JILL PRYOR, Circuit Judges, and MOODY,[*] District Judge.|
|Case Date:||October 16, 2015|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit|
After plaintiff was terminated from his position as head football coach, plaintiff filed suit against the School District under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq., and related federal laws, alleging that the school district committed racially discriminatory employment decisions. The court concluded that, although plaintiff produced sufficient evidence that could lead a... (see full summary)
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. D.C. Docket No. 3:12-cv-00152-TCB.
Employers covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 may not " fail or refuse to hire or ... discharge any individual, or otherwise ... discriminate against any individual ... because of such individual's race." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Charles Flowers is the former head football coach of Troup High School in Troup County, Georgia. Following his termination from tat position, Flowers brought suit against the Troup County School District under Title VII and related federal laws that outlaw racially discriminatory employment decisions. The School District argues that it fired Flowers because Flowers committed recruiting violations that resulted in ineligible students being enrolled at Troup High School to play football. Flowers denies any wrongdoing and claims that the School District singled him out for special treatment under the pretext of investigating alleged recruiting violations. The parties fiercely dispute the existence of, and meaning to be drawn from, many of the ins and outs of the events leading to and following Flowers's termination.
Although the voluminous record before us is admittedly complex, the conclusion to be drawn from it is simple. Title VII functions only as a bulwark against unlawful discrimination; it does not substitute the business judgment of federal courts for any other nondiscriminatory reason. Flowers, though he has produced sufficient evidence that could lead a reasonable jury to infer that he was treated unfairly,1 has failed to produce any evidence suggesting that his treatment was on account of his race. 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. Any indication that racial discrimination informed the School District's decision to fire Flowers is conspicuously absent from the evidence presented. We therefore affirm the District Court's grant of summary judgment.2
At the end of 2009, Troup High School, part of Georgia's Troup County School District, began its search for a new head football coach. Both the school's athletic director and the then-head coach reached out to Charles Flowers, an alumnus of Troup High School. Flowers had distinguished himself at Shaw High School in Columbus, Georgia, winning multiple coach-of-the-year awards and state championships in both baseball and football between 1987 and 2005. Following his tenure at Shaw High School, Flowers served as the athletic director of the Muscogee County School District for a year and a half and then became the head football coach of the Dougherty Comprehensive High School in Albany, Georgia. The Troup County School District's Board of Education extended to Flowers an at-will one-year contract on August 1, 2010, making Flowers the first black head football coach in Troup County since the School District had been racially desegregated in 1973. Despite having retired from teaching in 2010, Flowers agreed to coach Troup High School's football team as a part-time, " 49% employee." This arrangement allowed Flowers to coach football while receiving his retirement benefits.
Seven months before he was officially hired, Flowers began holding workouts and practices while administrators subjected him to an unusually intensive background check, with a particular focus on discovering any potential recruiting violations. After that investigation came up empty, Troup County School District confirmed Flowers's employment. In subsequent contracts, Flowers also became the Defensive Coordinator of the football team, Events Coordinator, and Department Chair of Health and Physical Education. The School District later offered Flowers a second year-long employment contract, which provided that Flowers would also serve as Assistant Athletic Director.
After hiring Flowers, the School District's administrators decided that they needed to update the School District's policies regarding athletic eligibility and improper recruiting. On August 19, the School Board took " swift action" to adopt a new " Competitive Interscholastic Activities Policy," which came to be known as the " Charles Flowers Policy" as a result of allegations of recruiting violations made against Flowers. Between August 5, 2010 and February 28, 2011, Troup County School District officials received seven letters from school officials in neighboring Lanett, Alabama, questioning eight students' eligibility to play for Troup High School.3 The first letter, sent by a Lanett City Schools attendance officer on August 5, 2010, declared that Lanett officials had " verified" that two Troup High School students and football players--Jalen and Zanquanarious Washington--lived in the Lanett City School District, and that Lanett officials were " in the process of verifying ... the residence" of a third Troup High School student and football player.
The Washington brothers had previously attended Lanett High School, where they had also played football, before enrolling at Troup High School in 2010. Concerned with her boys' educational opportunities in Lanett, Shayla Washington decided to enroll her sons Jalen and Zanquanarious Washington at Troup High School. Shayla Washington's residential eligibility to do so, however, became the subject of a months-long investigation by both Lanett and Troup County officials.4
Troup County Superintendent Cole Pugh, who assumed office on February 1, 2011, directed that an investigation be made into suspected recruiting violations committed by Flowers. On his first day of work, Superintendent Pugh met with the principal of Troup High School, who alleged that Pugh told him that Pugh " understood [Flowers] was a recruiter." Though the principal denied that Flowers was a recruiter, Pugh responded that he has " learned that where there's smoke, there's fire." Two months later, in April 2011, the Troup County School Board hired a private investigator, Duke Blackburn, who had been recommended by the Troup County Sheriff's Office, to look into the allegations of recruiting violations made against Flowers.
In his first report, sent on May 14, 2011, Blackburn originally stated that " any involvement of Troup County Staff" in efforts to falsify students' residencies was " unfounded." Blackburn then sent two follow-up emails after he learned in July 2011 that Shayla Washington and her children had been evicted from their apartment in Troup County. After speaking with the co-owner of that apartment, Ric Hunt, Blackburn reported that Shayla Washington's application had been denied because of her bad credit but that Flowers had intervened to guarantee the rent payments. At no point in the investigation did Blackburn or any other Troup County School District official interview Shayla Washington directly.
On September 22, 2011, Superintendent Pugh and Assistant Superintendent of Operations John Radcliffe interviewed Ric Hunt, who again stated that Flowers had called on Shayla Washington's behalf and made rental payments to secure the apartment. On January 19, 2012, Pugh and Radcliffe obtained a signed statement from Hunt to that effect. Having waited several months...
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