Monday, June 18, 2007

Fired Coach to Sue South Carolina State

A couple months ago we blogged about South Carolina State University's decision to fire its head men's basketball coach, Jamal Brown. The University's explanation was vague, suggesting only that he had done something to jeopardize the school's compliance with Title IX. We thought it was probably a sexual harassment situation, a theory which was later confirmed when the press reported that the coach was under investigation for a relationship with a female student trainer.

But according to the local paper in Columbia yesterday, the investigation never lead to any formal charges against Brown, who was not reinstated. He plans to sue the University this week for violating the terms of his employment contract. The issue in dispute seems to be whether Brown's refusal to submit to the University's request that he take a polygraph test was proper grounds for his dismissal. Brown argues it was not proper for the University to ask him to take a polygraph in the absence of formal charges against him. Thus, he says, he was within his right to refuse to take the test.

The University claims that they did not require pending charges against Brown, because they weren't investigating his culpability, but the University's own compliance with Title IX. To be sure, schools can be liable under Title IX when their employees and even their students sexually harass another student -- see, e.g., the UNC case. Thus, the University's position is that Brown's refusal to take the polygraph test was conduct that obstructed a Title IX investigation, an offense for which Brown could legally be fired.

The way this case is being reported, it sounds like the University is using a semantic distinction between investigating Brown and investigating its own Title IX compliance to justify why it fired a coach who was never charged with misconduct.

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