Hazel Park teacher's retaliation claim is dismissed
Geraldine Fuhr has been a teacher and a basketball coach at Hazel Park High since 1989. In 1999, she sued the District in Federal Court alleging gender discrimination. She had sought to be named head boys' basketball coach and alleged that she was denied the position solely because of gender; a jury found in her favor. She served as mens and womens coach from 2001 to 2006, when the school removed her as the womens' coach.
The school system defended its decision to take away her girls' coaching responsibilities as necessary to comply with pending MHSAA litigaton that would cause the mens' and womens' seasons to overlap. A group of Michigan parents had sued the Michigan High School Athletic Association and secured the re-alignment of girls' basketball to comport with national norms,
In the meantime, Fuhr endured a series of humiliations and frustrations at the school as a booster-funded ice machine was placed where it was inaccessible to womens' teams in the boys' football locker room. Her team uniforms were ordered late; her mens' basketball team was denied use of the football locker room; some of her better players receieved what she considered inappropriate discipline and the athetic director did not meet his responsibilities to evaluate her performance on a timely basis. The school provided fewer athletic trainer hours and resources to womens' programs than it provided to boys'. She also cited evidence of the school administration actively working behind the scenes to generate parental support for removing her as the boys' basketball coach.
Fuhr took her complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which unsucessfully attempted to mediate the dispute. It then issued Fuhr a right to sue letter. Her claim was summarily dismissed and she appealed.
The higher court ruled that she had not presented sufficient evidence to build a claim of retaliation. Despite a comment by the High School Principal to the effect that "this is an old boys' network; they are doing this to get rid of you," the Court found no "direct" evidence of discrimination. The Court also held that because of the multi-year gap between her winning discrimination claim and the alleged retaliation, she could not prove a causal connection motivating the allegedly wrongful acts. The Court also found technical deficiencies in Fuhr's claim that she was a victim of "pervasive retaliatory harassment by athletic director Tom Pratt.