Saturday, April 05, 2008

Retaliation Case Against Clark College May Proceed to Trial

Last week, the Washington state court of appeals reversed a lower court decision that had granted a summary judgment victory to Clark College (Vancouver, WA) in its litigation with former women's basketball coach, Trev Kiser. In 2002, Clark College terminated Kiser's contract. Kiser sued under Title IX and a state law, alleging that he was terminated in retaliation for complaining about the disparities between men's and women's basketball programs that related to the quality of officiating, budget, travel arrangements, and the athletic director's hostility towards the women's team. The College argued that Kiser was fired for mismanaging team funds, including possibly pocketing some of the team's per diem money and indisputably receiving reimbursement for gas he didn't pay for. A trial judge granted the College's motion for summary judgment, and Kiser appealed.

The appellate court reversed the trial court and reinstated Kiser's case. At issue on appeal was the nature and sufficiency of evidence a retaliation plaintiff needs to proffer to avoid losing at summary judgment. For an employer to win an employment discrimination case on summary judgment, it must provide conclusive and uncontroverted evidence of its nondiscriminatory explanation for firing the plaintiff. The appellate court determined that Kiser provided enough evidence to cast doubt on the College's explanation that it fired him for mismanaging funds. In particular, Kiser alleged, and the College did not deny, that the athletic director threatened Kiser with losing his job if he didn't refrain from making Title IX allegations. "This threat presents direct evidence of a nexus between the retaliatory motive and the employment decision sufficient to suggest that the College's stated reasons for termination were pretextual," said the court. This is enough to prevent the College from winning on a summary judgment. A trial is necessary to resolve the disputed questions about Clark's allegedly retaliatory motive.

Decision: Kiser v. Clark College, 2008 WL 788685 (Wash. App. Div., March 25, 2008).