A state appeals court in Louisiana has overturned a jury's $773,000 award to a former women's track and field coach at Louisiana State University, ruling that the court erred in blaming his firing on race discrimination.
Loren Seagrave coached the university's highly successful women's track team from 1985 the 1989. That spring, he told LSU's men's track coach, Patrick Henry, that in July 1988, he had had an all-night "counseling session" with a runner on his team at a vacant apartment he owned. Seagrave acknowledged comforting the athlete but denied any wrongdoing. Believing that such behavior with a student was inappropriate for a teacher or coach, university officials asked Seagrave to resign in April; he refused. So university officials fired him in May.
He sued early in 1990, accusing the university of firing him not because of the incident with the female athlete but because Seagrave, who is white, was married to an black woman. The primary evidence he presented at trial to support his claim were comments that LSU's then athletics director, Joe Dean, reportedly made in 1987, when the university was trying to decide whom to hire as its men's track coach.
A former LSU coach testified at the trial that Dean had told him that the university would not consider Seagrave for the job because he had only coached women and because he was going to marry a black woman, court records show.
In February 2003, a state court jury found in Seagrave's favor and awarded him $423,000 in lost wages and $350,000 in damages for emotional distress. LSU appealed, citing what it believed to be errors by the judge and jury.
In its ruling Friday, a three-judge majority of the Lousiana Court of Appeal, First Circuit, found that the lower court should not have used Dean's "alleged comments" as proof of discrimination, because they were reported to have happened in 1987, two full years before the dismissal.
"Therefore, this alleged comment cannot provide sufficient evidence of discrimination, and Seagrave failed to prove his claim of race-based discrimination," the court ruled. "The jury was clearly wrong in finding otherwise." With that ruling, the appeals panel not only threw out the jury verdict but ordered Seagrave to pay $3,000 in legal costs.
A lawyer representing LSU, G. Michael Pharis, said the university was gratified by the decision in the case, which he said "never should have gone to trial" because "there was nothing there."
Dan M. Scheuermann, a lawyer for Seagrave -- who now works with professional athletes to improve their speed and conditioning -- said that the appeals court had ignored several key elements of the case, and that his client would appeal to Louisiana's Supreme Court.
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