Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cheer Coach's Lawsuit Survives Motion to Dismiss

We blogged last year about Debbie Greenwell's lawsuit against the University of Alabama.  Greenwell had been the university's highly successful cheerleading coach until she was terminated from her position for reasons that she alleges are retaliatory for efforts to advocate for equal treatment for her student athletes -- a violation of Title IX.  Among other claims, she also alleges that she was paid less than male coaches with comparable credentials and job duties, in violation of the federal Equal Pay Act.  The federal district court recently denied the University of Alabama's motion to dismiss the retaliation and equal pay claims after determining that Greenwell's complaint stated plausible claims for violations of the respective laws.  Plaintiffs do not face a high evidentiary burden to survive a motion to dismiss, so the court did not need to analyze the facts of Greenwell's allegations in much detail.  However, if the university next files a motion for summary judgment, the court will have to determine whether there is evidence in the record to support Greenwell's case, namely, whether her salary was demonstrably lower than that of an appropriate male comparitor (for the equal pay claim) and whether there some evidence of a causal nexus between her advocacy for students and the university's decision to terminate her from the head coach position.  As I noted in the earlier blog post about this case, the fact that several years passed in between will make this harder to prove.

Decision: Greenwell v. Trustees of the University of Alabama, 2012 WL 3637768 (N.D. Ala. Aug. 22, 2012).