Anti-discrimination laws extend workplace protections to employees who have personal relationships with those of another race, a federal court in New York has ruled.
In a first of its kind decision, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that lower federal courts were wrong in ruling that a white basketball coach fired from Iona College was not discriminated against because of his marriage to a black woman.
Former assistant coach Craig Holcomb, who was fired from the New Rochelle, N.Y. college in 2004, alleged in a lawsuit that the school fired him because he was married to a black woman.
He was one of two assistant coaches – the other of whom was black – fired by the school. At the time he was fired, Holcomb was an assistant to Jeff Ruland, a white former NBA All Star and Iona Alumnus whose long-time girlfriend was a black woman and friend of Holcomb’s wife.
In court papers, Holcomb showed evidence that an athletic director and a vice president at the school – two of the five officials responsible for firing him – used racial epithets and took other discriminatory actions against African-Americans.
Of central concern in the case was decision to ban Holcomb’s wife, Ruland’s girlfriend and high school recruits – most of whom were black – from alumni booster parties. Holcomb contended the move was part of a pattern of discrimination by school officials, one which ultimately cost him his job.
The school, however, contended that the firing of Holcomb and another assistant was due to their job performance. It also said that it had wanted to fire Ruland – the highest-paid employee of the school – but felt it would be too costly given his contract.
As far as the high school recruits who were barred from booster events, Iona officials said it was in response to its reading of NCAA rules that it claimed prevent colleges from allowing the practice.
The court agreed with Holcomb that “a reasonable jury could determine that Holcomb was fired in part because he was married to a black woman.”
It remanded the case to one of two lower courts which had previously ruled in favor of Iona.
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