Two former coaches at Diablo Valley College in California, part of the Contra Costa Community College district, are reportedly suing in federal court to contest their allegation that they were retaliated against for challenging the college’s decision to terminate two women’s teams last year. As we have earlier reported on this blog, the coaches complained both internally with the district and externally with the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights that the cuts would violate Title IX due to the severe disparity in athletic opportunities for men and women. These complaints resulted in the reinstatement of all of the terminated teams, which include the men’s and women’s cross country, track, and tennis teams, but the coaches who had raised the Title IX issue were not rehired to their jobs.
As I told the reporter for this story, it is often challenging for retaliation plaintiffs to prove that the reason for the adverse employment consequences (here, not being rehired) was retaliation for complaining about discrimination, rather than for some other neutral purpose such as the financial or budgetary reasons DVC maintains. Therefore, it is significant that the coaches in this case allege that they were directly told by the athletic director that “there would be negative consequences for filing a complaint.” If that evidence proves true, these coaches would prevail on what is usually the highest hurdle for plaintiffs in retaliation cases.
(N.B. In case the plaintiffs or their lawyers are reading this, please know that the aforementioned reporter had asked me about general background on the retaliation standard, not about the details of your case, which were not available to me at the time I spoke to him. Therefore, while I did tell him about the aspects of the retaliation doctrine that are generally most difficult to prove, it is entirely inaccurate to suggest, as he does, that I told him I thought you might have a “hard time” winning your case. I hope he honors my request for a correction.)