Holcomb v. Iona College, Docket No. 06-3815-CV.

CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
Writing for the CourtCalabresi
Citation521 F.3d 130
PartiesCraig HOLCOMB, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. IONA COLLEGE, Defendant-Appellee.
Docket NumberDocket No. 06-3815-CV.
Decision Date01 April 2008
521 F.3d 130
Craig HOLCOMB, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
IONA COLLEGE, Defendant-Appellee.
Docket No. 06-3815-CV.
United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.
Argued: September 5, 2007.
Decided: April 1, 2008.

[521 F.3d 131]

Jeffrey A. Udell (Thomas J. Fleming on the brief) Olshan Grundman Frome Rosenweig & Wolosky, LLP, New York, N.Y., for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Richard L. Steer (Anthony D. Dougherty on the brief) Tarter, Krinsky & Drogin LLP, New York, N.Y., for Defendant-Appellee.

Before: WALKER, CALABRESI, and SACK, Circuit Judges.

CALABRESI, Circuit Judge:


Plaintiff-Appellant Craig Holcomb appeals from a decision of the district court, which granted Defendants-Appellee Iona College's motion for summary judgment on Holcomb's claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Holcomb, who is white, claims that the college's decision to terminate his employment as an assistant coach

521 F.3d 132

of its basketball team was motivated by his marriage to a black woman. The college contends, instead, that Holcomb was removed from its staff as part of a necessary overhaul of a poorly performing team, and asserts that the decision was not based on race.

We hold, for the first time, that an employer may violate Title VII if it takes action against an employee because of the employee's association with a person of another race. Further, we find that a reasonable jury could determine that Holcomb was fired in part because he was married to a black woman. Accordingly, we vacate the district court's judgment, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

BACKGROUND

I. The Evidence in the Record

We emphasize that, at this stage of the proceedings, we are required to construe the evidence adduced in the court below in the light most favorable to plaintiffs case. See, e.g., Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., Inc., 258 F.3d 62, 69 (2d Cir.2001).

A. The Iona College Men's Basketball Team

In 1995, Craig Holcomb was hired as an assistant coach of the "Iona Gaels" men's basketball team. Holcomb reported both to the Head Coach, Tim Welsh, and to the college's Director of Athletics, a role filled at that time by Richard Petriccione.

In 1998, Welsh left and was replaced as Head Coach by Jeff Ruland, an alumnus of Iona, who was twice an NBA All Star, and who is white. When Ruland was appointed, Holcomb was made "Associate Head Coach." This new title denoted his position as the top assistant to Ruland, and was accompanied by a pay raise, but seemed to make no difference to Holcomb's day-to-day responsibilities as an assistant coach. When Ruland came on board, the Iona Gaels were enjoying considerable on-court success, and their good form continued for three seasons thereafter. The team won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference ("MAAC") Tournament in 1998, 2000, and 2001, thereby earning a spot in the National Collegiate Athletic Association ("NCAA") Men's Division I Championship Tournament in each of those years.

In June 2000, Holcomb married Pamela Gauthier, an African-American woman. In 2001, Ruland began a relationship with Iris Hansen, who was also an African-American woman and friend of Gauthier. Hansen and Gauthier often went to games and post-game functions together. In June 2001, Ruland signed a new eight-year contract as Head Coach. This contract, worth over $300,000 a year, made Ruland the highest paid employee at Iona.

From 1998 to 2004, Ruland supervised the same three assistant coaches: Holcomb worked alongside Tony Chiles, who is African-American, and Rob O'Driscoll, the most junior of the three, who is white, and who was not in an interracial relationship. This case arises from the college's 2004 decision to fire Holcomb and Chiles, while deciding to retain O'Driscoll and Ruland.

B. Brennan and Petriccione

Of the five officers of the college formally involved in the decision to end Holcomb's employment, Holcomb imputes improper racial motives to two people: Shawn Brennan (the Director of Athletics) and Richard Petriccione (a Vice President of the college). Brennan and Petriccione were close colleagues. Before 2001, Brennan worked as Sports Information Director directly under Petriccione, who was then the Athletics Director. When Petriccione

521 F.3d 133

was promoted to Vice President, Brennan replaced him as Director of Athletics, and the two worked in tandem for a year-long transitional period.

As Vice President for Advancement and External Affairs, Petriccione was one of three Vice Presidents working immediately under the college President, Brother James Liguori. In that capacity, Petriccione was the chief fund-raising officer at the college, and worked on alumni relations, advertising, public relations, corporate and foundational grants, and scholarships. It was evidently no coincidence that an erstwhile Athletics Director was chosen for this post; sporting events and activities play a major part in Iona's alumni relations and fund-raising efforts. The men's basketball program, in particular, played a prominent role in Iona's alumni outreach endeavors.

Holcomb claims that both Brennan and Petriccione had prior histories of racially questionable conduct, and relies on these, histories as support for his claim that the college's termination decision was based, at least in part, on the fact that his wife was black. In particular, Holcomb claims that the termination decision was motivated by a perceived need to appeal to the pockets of Iona's mostly white alumni.

1. Brennan

In building his case that he was fired for racial reasons, Holcomb cites, among other things, Shawn Brennan's decision to bar high school students, and Holcomb's wife, from "Goal Club" events. The Goal Club is an Iona College alumni fundraising and social organization, and is overseen by the Director of Athletics. Members of the Club, most of whom are Iona alumni, pay an annual fee to the Athletics Department, and in return are invited to attend special functions and parties. Throughout the period under consideration, the Goal Club routinely held pre-game or post-game receptions with the players and coaches of the men's basketball team.

Holcomb asserts that, from at least 1997 until 2003, high school basketball players from local schools, including potential basketball recruits, were permitted to attend these post-game parties. The majority of high school students who attended these events were African-American. Moreover, Holcomb's African-American wife regularly accompanied him to Goal Club functions. On Holcomb's account, all that changed after a November 29, 2003 home game against George Mason University.

After the game, several basketball players from nearby Mount Vernon High School attended a Goal Club event with their coach. All these students were African-American. The college's version of events is that its Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance, Jamie Fogarty, noticed that their number included a highly prized student athlete whom Iona was attempting to recruit. Fogarty was concerned that the student's presence violated NCAA recruiting regulations. Brennan then told Holcomb to ask all the high school players and their coach to leave. Brennan later barred high school students from future Goal Club events.

Holcomb took another view of the issue, and presents a different account of the college's motive for barring the students. On his reading of the NCAA's rules, permitting high school students to come to post-game events was at worst a "gray area." Moreover, Holcomb believed that the new policy would seriously hurt recruiting. He told Brennan as much at a later meeting. Suspecting that Brennan wanted to reduce African-American attendance at Goal Club events, Holcomb asked Brennan if he was "looking for a reason not to allow the student athletes to come."

521 F.3d 134

At the same meeting, Brennan allegedly told Holcomb that Holcomb's wife, along with Ruland's girlfriend Iris Hansen, should no longer attend Goal Club functions.1 His stated reason for excluding these two African-American women was that they were neither alumni nor donors. Holcomb, however, concluded that Brennan was again attempting to limit the number of black people at the college's fundraising events.

In addition to his allegations about the Goal Club, Holcomb also relies on testimony that Brennan, on seeing some of the college team's African-American players wearing hip-hop clothing, asked Ruland if he could "get these colored boys to dress like the white guys on the team."

2. Petriccione

Holcomb has also adduced affidavits and testimony to the effect that Richard Petriccione was in the habit of making racially offensive comments. Early in his tenure as an assistant coach, Holcomb claims to have heard Petriccione say: "[E]verybody at Fordham thinks they have these good black kids, and Iona has niggers." A year later, when several black members of the Iona Gaels were accused of stealing and selling telephone access codes, Petriccione allegedly told Holcomb that the basketball program needed to "keep [its] niggers in line."

Colleagues at Iona testified to Petriccione's record of what might, charitably, be called racial insensitivity. Egregiously in this respect, Petriccione is said to have referred to a Nigerian employee at the Alumni Giving Office as a "jungle bunny" and an "African princess." When that member of staff applied to his office for the position of Assistant Director of Annual Giving, he remarked: "[W]hat does she think she is coming from a hut in Africa and thinking she could apply for this job?"

The most striking of the allegations against Petriccione relates directly to Holcomb and his wife. Plaintiff testified that in February 2000, he asked Petriccione whether he had received the wedding invitation that Holcomb and Gauthier had sent him. According to Holcomb, whose claim is backed up in this respect by a third party, Petriccione replied: "[Y]ou're really going to...

To continue reading

Request your trial
1721 practice notes
  • St. Juste v. Metro Plus Health Plan, No. 10–CV–4729 (MKB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • March 28, 2014
    ...burden shifting analysis for religious discrimination claims). The plaintiff's burden at this stage is “minimal.” Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 139 (2d Cir.2008) (quoting Hicks, 509 U.S. at 506, 113 S.Ct. 2742). If the plaintiff satisfies this initial burden, the burden then shifts t......
  • Campbell v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., No. 11–CV–2827 MKB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • March 26, 2015
    ...also Ruiz v. Cnty. of Rockland, 609 F.3d 486, 491 (2d Cir.2010). A plaintiff's burden at this stage is “minimal.” Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 139 (2d Cir.2008) (quoting Hicks, 509 U.S. at 506, 113 S.Ct. 2742 ). To establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination under Titl......
  • In re Mirena Ius Levonorgestrel-Related Prods. Liab. Litig. (No. II), 17-MD-2767 (PAE)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • June 11, 2019
    ...non-moving parties. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) ; see also Holcomb v. Iona Coll. , 521 F.3d 130, 132 (2d Cir. 2008). If the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with specific facts sho......
  • Lara v. Delta Int'l Mach. Corp., CV 13–6259 (AKT)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • March 31, 2016
    ...91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) ; Mihalik v. Credit Agricole Cheuvreux North America, Inc., 715 F.3d 102, 108 (2d Cir.2013) ; Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 137 (2d Cir.2008). To determine whether the moving party has satisfied this burden, the Court is required to view the evidence and all fac......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1687 cases
  • St. Juste v. Metro Plus Health Plan, No. 10–CV–4729 (MKB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • March 28, 2014
    ...burden shifting analysis for religious discrimination claims). The plaintiff's burden at this stage is “minimal.” Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 139 (2d Cir.2008) (quoting Hicks, 509 U.S. at 506, 113 S.Ct. 2742). If the plaintiff satisfies this initial burden, the burden then shifts t......
  • Campbell v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., No. 11–CV–2827 MKB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • March 26, 2015
    ...also Ruiz v. Cnty. of Rockland, 609 F.3d 486, 491 (2d Cir.2010). A plaintiff's burden at this stage is “minimal.” Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 139 (2d Cir.2008) (quoting Hicks, 509 U.S. at 506, 113 S.Ct. 2742 ). To establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination under Titl......
  • In re Mirena Ius Levonorgestrel-Related Prods. Liab. Litig. (No. II), 17-MD-2767 (PAE)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • June 11, 2019
    ...non-moving parties. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) ; see also Holcomb v. Iona Coll. , 521 F.3d 130, 132 (2d Cir. 2008). If the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with specific facts sho......
  • Lara v. Delta Int'l Mach. Corp., CV 13–6259 (AKT)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • March 31, 2016
    ...91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) ; Mihalik v. Credit Agricole Cheuvreux North America, Inc., 715 F.3d 102, 108 (2d Cir.2013) ; Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 137 (2d Cir.2008). To determine whether the moving party has satisfied this burden, the Court is required to view the evidence and all fac......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • BOSTOCK WAS BOGUS: TEXTUALISM, PLURALISM, AND TITLE VII.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 97 Nbr. 1, November 2021
    • November 1, 2021
    ...see Mitchell N. Berman, Our Principled Constitution, 166 U. PA. L. REV. 1325, 1342 (2018). (237) See, e.g., Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 139 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting 42 U.S.C. [section] 2000e-2(a) (1)); Tetro v. Elliott Popham Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, & CMC Trucks, Inc., 173 F......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT