Barclay Damon
Barclay Damon

Legal Alert

NY Federal Judge Rules Male Coach Can Bring a Sex Discrimination Claim Based on Alleged Title IX Violations Affecting a Women’s Sports Program

A US district court judge in the Northern District of New York recently refused to dismiss a Title IX sex discrimination claim brought by SUNY Albany’s former tennis coach following the university’s decision to terminate its women’s tennis program.

The defendants sought dismissal of the former coach’s sex discrimination claim on the basis that the alleged discrimination was not directed toward him, but only at his players. The court, however, declined to view the coach’s claims as based solely on injuries faced by others, interpreting his claims to suggest that he too was the victim of sex discrimination since he lost his coaching job.

Relying on a decision in Morris v. Fordham Univ., the court declined to unnecessarily constrict the definition of “on the basis of sex” under Title IX, noting that “[t]he prohibition of discrimination ‘on the basis of sex’ is broad enough to encompass a prohibition of discrimination against the plaintiff on the basis of the sex of the players whom he coached.” However, the court dismissed claims for punitive damages under Title IX, holding that such damages are unavailable under Title IX.

In addition to the former tennis coach’s sex discrimination claim, the court went on to conclude that he pled sufficient facts to support an age discrimination claim against the university’s athletic director under 42 USC § 1983. In doing so, the court rejected the defendants’ argument that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 USC § 623(a)(1), is the exclusive remedy for claims of age discrimination in employment.

The court ultimately concluded that state sovereign immunity would protect the athletic director in his official capacity, but the court declined to dismiss the former coach’s Section 1983 claim brought against the athletic director in his individual capacity, noting that the “allegations are sufficient to create an inference that [the athletic director’s] motivation in terminating plaintiff was his age.” The court also declined to dismiss claims for punitive damages under Section 1983, noting that such damages are available “when the defendant’s conduct is shown to be motivated by evil motive or intent or when it involves reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of others.”

The court also declined to grant the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, as no discovery has occurred. The plaintiffs argued that the Office for Civil Rights found SUNY Albany in violation of Title IX by terminating the women’s tennis program. However, in recognizing that Title IX is fact intensive and the defendants have denied any such liability, the court held that “the findings of the agency are not sufficient to bypass the discovery process.”

The case is Isidora Pejovic, et. al. v. State University of New York at Albany, et. al., No. 1:17-CV-1092 (2018).


Should you have any questions regarding the information provided in this alert, please contact Brittany Lawrence at blawrence@barclaydamon.com, or Buster Melvin, Chair of the firm's Higher Education Practice Area, at emelvin@barclaydamon.com.