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7th Circuit rules on IUPUI discrimination case

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated one grant of summary judgment and affirmed another in favor of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in a discrimination suit. A former women's tennis coach had brought the age and gender discrimination suit against the university after she was fired.

In Debbie A. Peirick v. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Athletic Department, et al., No. 06-1538, the federal appellate court heard the appeal of Peirick, who was the women's tennis coach at IUPUI for 13 years. Peirick was fired after her best season as head coach without any warning. She sued IUPUI, its athletic department, and Indiana University's Board of Trustees, claiming her termination was motivated by gender and age. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on both claims.

Peirick always met IUPUI expectations for coaches during her tenure as head coach, including excellent academic performance by student athletes, community service, budgeting, professional conduct, and athletic competition. She never had violated an NCAA rule. It was only in the months before her termination in 2003 did IUPUI's Athletic Director Michael Moore, and Assistant Athletic Director Denise O'Grady decide Peirick should be fired.

Between April and June 2003, Moore and O'Grady heard from students who complained about Peirick's driving while at a competition, use of foul language, and her handling of a scheduling conflict with the Indianapolis Tennis Center, where the team practiced and competed. Peirick wanted to reserve the Tennis Center to host the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament, but it was already booked. When students learned of it, Peirick told the students it was the athletic administration's fault because they didn't schedule the space in time.

Moore and O'Grady claim Peirick's lie to her students about the Tennis Center was the last straw requiring her termination, but Peirick was never given any kind of warning or reprimand because of her behavior. After her firing, IUPUI hired the 23-year-old sister of the men's tennis coach to coach the women's team.

The 7th Circuit vacated the grant of summary judgment in favor of IUPUI because questions of material fact existed on Peirick's gender discrimination claim. Peirick named two other male coaches at IUPUI that were similarly situated with her as far as questionable conduct. These two male coaches engaged in serious violations of Indiana University's Statement of Principles on the Conduct of Participants in Student Athletic Programs, like Peirick, but they were given progressive discipline instead of being fired without warning and were treated more favorably than Peirick. The school's delay in explaining why Peirick was fired and its unusual conduct create a question of fact concerning the legitimacy of its explanations for Peirick's termination, wrote Judge Anne Claire Williams.

The federal appellate court did uphold the summary judgment in favor of IUPUI on Peirick's age discrimination claim because the defendants are immune from suit. The 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution shields them from suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621 to 634. The athletics department is a division of the university and cannot be sued. IUPUI and Indiana University's Board of Governors are agencies of the state and also cannot be sued. The 11th Amendment usually bars actions in federal court against a state, state agency, or state officials acting in their official capacities, so the District Court was correct in granting summary judgment in favor of IUPUI, wrote Judge Williams.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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