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Lawyers’ Committee Files Suit Against NCAA for Discriminatory Coaching Certification Policy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 13, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A new lawsuit brought by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers' Committee) alleges that a recent change in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) policy has a disproportionately adverse effect on African American coaches.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego, contends that the NCAA's policy permanently banning all individuals with a felony conviction from coaching in NCAA-certified high school events violates Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Lawyers' Committee and pro bono counsel Troutman Sanders LLP filed the suit on behalf of Dominic Hardie, whom they contend was denied full and equal enjoyment of places of public accommodation on the basis of race. [Click here for complaint]. 

Hardie also seeks a preliminary injunction that will allow him to coach his teams in an upcoming NCAA-certified high school girls' basketball tournament in San Diego, California, the Midsummer Night's Madness Western Basketball Tournament. 

In addition to the NCAA, other defendants named in the complaint include the Midsummer Night's Basketball Program, the producer of the tournament, and Alliant International University and Town & Country Hotel and Resort, the tournament hosts.

Although the NCAA previously allowed coaches to take part in NCAA-certified basketball tournaments if they had a non-violent felony conviction older than seven years, the NCAA changed its policy in 2011 to permanently bar any ex-felon from coaching a team in an NCAA-certified basketball tournament. 

Because African Americans are vastly overrepresented in the criminal justice system, this new policy has the effect of disproportionately barring minority coaches from participating in NCAA-certified tournaments, the Lawyers' Committee contends.

"The Lawyers' Committee is committed to eliminating unjustifiable barriers to employment, housing, and full participation in public life faced by persons with criminal histories," said Jane Dolkart, senior counsel with the Lawyers' Committee's Employment Discrimination Project. "Such policies have a devastating effect on African Americans."

National data shows that African Americans are overrepresented in nearly every stage of the criminal justice process. According to December 15, 2011, data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, they are represented among those with felony convictions at a rate 4.5 times higher than the rate for Whites. Assuming that current incarceration rates remain unchanged, about 1 in 17 White men are expected to serve time in prison during their lifetime; by contrast, this rate climbs to 1 in 6 for Hispanic men; and to 1 in 3 for African American men.

Hardie, co-founder of a nonprofit organization that develops student-athletes' self-esteem, confidence and motivation through sport, successfully coached his elite high school girls' basketball teams in NCAA tournaments under the previous policy. Yet, when seeking to renew his NCAA coaching certification for the 2012-2013 term, he was informed that under the NCAA's new policy he would no longer be allowed to participate in NCAA tournaments due to a single non-violent drug conviction, which occurred more than 11 years ago.

"Access to criminal history records has become easy, and employers and participatory organizations like the NCAA are using criminal record exclusions without any sort of screening or individualized review that would determine whether an individual really does pose a risk," said Dan Chambers, a partner at Troutman Sanders.  "A well-respected coach is irrationally being denied the ability to coach in tournaments that are exceptionally important to his players' futures."

The parent of one of Hardie's players, Dr. Harold Adams, said "Dominic instills in his girls wonderful morals and a good work ethic, and has a special ability to motivate his players."

The complaint requests that the court enjoin the NCAA and other defendants from applying a total coaching ban on felony ex-offenders in the Midsummer Night's Madness Western Basketball Tournament, and other NCAA-certified tournaments, and reinstate Hardie's coaching certification.

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The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers' Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. We are celebrating our 50th anniversary in 2013 as we continue our quest of "Moving America Toward Justice." The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment; voting; education and environmental justice.  For more information about the LCCRUL, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

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