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College’s Nonrenewal Of Coach’s Contract Was Adverse Employment Action Supporting A Title IX Retaliation Claim
Carroll College (College) is a Catholic liberal arts college in Helena, Montana. The College employed Bennett K. MacIntyre from 2006-2016, first as the Community Living Director and later as the Associate Athletics Director. MayIntyre also received a stipend for serving as the head coach for the College’s golf team.
In September 2015, MacIntyre wrote in his employee self-evaluation that he aimed to “assist Carroll Athletics in becoming Title IX compliant.” In January 2016, MacIntyre informed the College’s Title IX Coordinator and Director of Human Resources about potential Title IX violations. MacIntyre also alleged workplace harassment, hostile work environment, and discrimination involving Kyle Baker, the Interim Director of Athletics, and Dr. Tom Evans, the President of the College.
The next month, Baker submitted a performance review of MacIntyre and gave him the lowest possible score in each category. MacIntyre then filed a formal grievance alleging, among other things, discrimination and a hostile work environment. To resolve complaints, the College and MacIntyre entered into a settlement agreement in which the College agreed to remove Baker’s negative review, pay MacIntyre in back wages, and hire MacIntyre as a full-time golf coach for two years from 2016-2018. Meanwhile, the new Athletic Director, Charlie Gross, learned of MacIntyre’s grievances and Title IX complaints from various memos and from MacIntyre directly. MacIntyre also complained of gender inequity to a member of the College’s Board of Trustees.
Around this time, the College started experiencing budget problems because of declining student enrollment. In June 2017, the Vice President of Finance, Lori Peterson, emailed Gross about the need for budget cuts in the athletic department, asking whether the College needed a head golf coach or whether the position was stipend-only. Two months later, Gross proposed reductions in the athletic department budget, including the recommendation to make the golf coach a stipend-only position. The Board of Trustees adopted those recommendations. As a result, MacIntyre’s pay was reduced significantly and he lost some of his employment benefits.
MacIntyre filed another grievance in June 2018, alleging retaliation for complaining about Title IX violations. An outside investigator investigated his claims, but could not determine by a preponderance of the evidence that the alleged violations occurred.
MacIntyre filed a lawsuit against the College, alleging the College refused to renew his contract in retaliation for his complaints about gender inequity. The College moved for summary judgment and the trial court granted the motion, holding that MacIntyre failed to allege a prima facie case of retaliation under Title IX. Specifically, the trial court held that the nonrenewal of MacIntyre’s contract was not an adverse employment action.
The Ninth Circuit disagreed with the trial court. In order to make a prima facie case of retaliation, a plaintiff without direct evidence of retaliation must show that (1) they engaged in protected activity, (2) they suffered an adverse action, and (3) there was a causal link between the two. A plaintiff only needs to make a minimal threshold showing retaliation, and is not required to prove their retaliation claims to the level of a preponderance of the evidence standard.
The Ninth Circuit explained that an adverse employment action is one that may be reasonably likely to deter employees from engaging in protected activity, like reporting discrimination. Here, the nonrenewal of an employment contract is likely to deter a reasonable employee from reporting discrimination. MacIntyre and another coach testified that they expected their contracts to be renewed, which was enough to make a minimal threshold showing that MacIntyre suffered an adverse employment action when his contract was not renewed.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the College and remanded the case.
MacIntyre v. Carroll College (2022) — F.4th —- [2022 WL 4101176].
Private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities that receive federal funds should be mindful that plaintiffs have a low burden of proof to allege an adverse employment action in a Title IX retaliation claim. We also note that the proposed Title IX regulations, released in June, clarify that Title IX protects a person from retaliation, and define retaliation as “intimidation, threats, coercion, or discrimination against anyone because the person has reported possible sex discrimination, made a sex-discrimination complaint or participated in any way in a recipient’s Title IX process.”