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Heard v. Waynesburg University

October 21, 2010

CHARLIE T. HEARD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE WAYNESBURG UNIVERSITY, F/K/A THE WAYNESBURG COLLEGE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mitchell, M.J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, Charlie T. Heard, brings this action against Defendant, The Waynesburg University, f/k/a The Waynesburg College, alleging claims of racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. " 2000e to 2000e-17 (Title VII); 42 U.S.C. ' 1981; and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. " 951-63 (PHRA), arising out of Waynesburg's termination of his employment as a part-time wrestling coach on January 31, 2008.

Currently pending before the Court for disposition is a motion for summary judgment, filed by Defendant. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

Facts

In early 2006, Waynesburg advertised that it was seeking applicants for its part-time head wrestling coach position for the 2007 season. (Heard Dep. at 72-73 & Ex. 1.)*fn1 In response, on February 24, 2006, Plaintiff sent a cover letter and resume to Waynesburg, expressing his interest in the position. (Heard Dep. at 73-75 & Exs. 2, 3, 4.) On March 2, 2006, Waynesburg responded to Plaintiff's letter and resume by sending a letter to him acknowledging receipt of the same and asking him to complete a Staff Application. (Heard Dep. at 75 & Ex. 5.)

Plaintiff completed the application and was invited to interview for the position with Waynesburg's athletic director, Rudy Marisa. (Heard Dep. at 75-77 & Ex. 6.) Marisa interviewed Plaintiff and remarked that he was impressed with his resume. He informed Plaintiff that the position was part-time, earning $7,500.00 per year and that he would need to interview with Richard L. ―Skip‖ Noftzger, Waynesburg's Vice President of Student Affairs, because Marisa and Noftzger would make the decision. (Heard Dep. at 77-79, 83.) Plaintiff then interviewed with Noftzger and they discussed, among other things, the amount of pay offered and the fact that Plaintiff had a part-time catering business and also performed private wrestling teaching. (Heard Dep. at 83-85.)

Following his interview with Noftzger, Plaintiff met again with Marisa in his office and was offered the position of part-time head wrestling coach at a salary of $7,500.00. (Heard Dep. at 88-89 & Ex. 7.) He accepted the offer and signed a ―Part-Time Term Contract Administrative Staff Agreement‖ with Waynesburg to be its part-time head wrestling coach. (Heard Dep. at 88-90 & Ex. 7.) This job represented the first time he held a paid position coaching wrestling for a university and the first time he coached at the Division III level. (Heard Dep. at 97-98.)

Following Plaintiff's acceptance of the position, Waynesburg issued a press release on its web site, complete with his picture, entitled ―All-American Charlie Heard Hired as New Head Wrestling Coach.‖ (Heard Dep. at 92-93 & Ex. 9.) As part of his employment with Waynesburg, Plaintiff signed an Anti-Discrimination/Anti-Harassment Policy Verification Statement. (Heard Dep. at 93 & Ex. 10.)

During his employment with Waynesburg as part-time head wrestling coach, Plaintiff did not apply for any other positions with the University. (Heard Dep. at 194.) On April 23, 2007, Waynesburg renewed its agreement with Plaintiff for a second year and increased his salary to $10,000.00 and his recruiting budget from $3,000.00 to $4,000.00. (Heard Dep. at 91, 191 & Ex. 8.)

During Plaintiff's second season, on January 28, 2008, he was overseeing the wrestling team's open room practice and its live drilling when an incident occurred. Z.B.,*fn2 an 18-year old freshman, performed a wrestling move during live drills that Plaintiff thought was ―comical,‖ so he stated ―make sure you don't do that in a match, because it ain't going to work.‖ Although Plaintiff thought that the wrestlers were kidding around, Z.B. jumped up from the mat and walked quickly toward him ―in a raging manner, swearing and a mean look on his face.‖ When Z.B. got close to him, Plaintiff ―didn't know what he was going to do‖ so to protect himself he raised his hand and struck Z.B.'s lip with the front part of his closed hand. (Heard Dep. at 199-204.) Z.B. then left the room and returned holding a cell phone which he handed to Plaintiff, saying ―My dad wants to speak with you.‖ Plaintiff recounted what happened to Z.B.'s father, who told him he ―should have been a better example‖ for his son. He also stated that he would contact the school regarding the incident and Plaintiff told him ―You do what you have to do.‖ (Heard Dep. at 204-11.)

Plaintiff approached a Waynesburg security officer and asked her what he should do. She advised him to wait and speak with Michael Humiston, Waynesburg's Director of Public Safety. (Heard Dep. at 214; Humiston Dep. at 4.*fn3 ) The following day, January 29, 2008, Plaintiff met with Humiston and discussed the incident. Humiston asked Plaintiff to prepare a written version of the incident, but Plaintiff responded that he would prefer to go home and think about the event before preparing a statement and Humiston permitted him to do so. (Heard Dep. at 214-16.)

That same day, Plaintiff received a telephone call from Assistant Athletic Director Rick Shepas, advising him that he was suspended until further notice due to the incident with Z.B. Shepas also requested that Plaintiff provide a written statement regarding the incident. (Heard Dep. at 216; Noftzger Dep. at 16.*fn4 ) The following day, Humiston called Plaintiff and left a message, again requesting that he provide a written statement. Plaintiff did not return the call, but instead visited with an attorney. (Heard Dep. at 216-17.) Plaintiff also received a call from Thomas Helmick, Waynesburg's Human Resources and Student Services Disability Coordinator, again requesting that he provide a written statement. (Heard Dep. at 217; Helmick Dep. at 4.*fn5

Plaintiff prepared a written statement on January 30, 2008. The statement provides in part: ―As [Z.B.] came closer to me in a rage with the angry look of intention on his face, my first reflex reaction was to back the 285 pound man off me before he harmed me. Finding myself in this dangerous position, my first quick reflex was to back him off, and the immediate reflex was a punch toward him to back him off from the attack on me.‖ (Heard Dep. at 218-19 & Ex. 26.)

On January 31, 2008, Plaintiff met with Noftzger and Helmick in Helmick's office regarding the incident. At the meeting, Noftzger reviewed Plaintiff's written statement, remarked that it was not materially different from the report prepared by Waynesburg's Director of Public Safety and then handed Plaintiff a letter terminating his employment with Waynesburg effective January 31, 2008. (Heard Dep. at 220-21 & Ex. 28.) The decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment was made by Helmick and Noftzger. (Helmick Aff. ¶¶ 3-6.)*fn6

Helmick states that, in making this decision, he and Noftzger considered Z.B.'s written statement, a security report prepared by Waynesburg's Director of Public Safety, the statements of other Waynesburg students, student-athletes and employees who were present at wrestling practice on January 28, 2008, the complaint made by Z.B.'s mother, and Plaintiff's written statement. (Helmick Aff. ¶ 8.) Defendant states that, other than Plaintiff, there has never been an instance in which a student and/or parent complained to Waynesburg that a coach physically struck a student-athlete during practice. (Patterson Dep. at 28.)*fn7

Procedural History

Plaintiff filed this action on September 28, 2009. Count I alleges that Defendant discriminated against him because of his race and because of his attempts to recruit African American students, and that it fired or constructively discharged him in retaliation for his opposition to racial discrimination, in violation of § 1981. Count II alleges that Defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his race and treated him differently than other coaches with respect to the amount of pay he received, and that it fired or constructively discharged him because of his race, in violation of Title VII. Count III alleges that Defendant discriminated against him based on his race and created a racially hostile work environment, in violation of the PHRA.

On September 15, 2010, a motion for summary judgment was filed by the ...


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