According to Newsday, longtime coach Rich Smith has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the Garden City Union Free School District discriminated against him in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Smith, 74, was the head coach of Garden City’s varsity baseball team for the last 44 of his 50 years working for the district, until the end of the 2016 season when they decided not to renew his contract. Smith has the distinction of being the second “most winningest” baseball coach in Long Island history.
Smith filed employment discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in July 2016 and received his right to sue notice in February 2017. The age discrimination lawsuit is against the school district, its Superintendent and the high school’s Athletic Director. The complaint seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages to cover lost wages and emotional trauma.
Congress passed the ADEA in 1967 to prevent discrimination against workers 40 years of age and older. The ADEA states, in part, that it is unlawful for an employer to:
The ADEA applies to employers engaged in an industry affecting commerce and having 20 or more employees. It protects employees who are 40 and over. Many states, like New York, also have laws that protect employees from age discrimination in the workplace. In New York, the state law prohibits employees who are 18 and older from discrimination because of age.
In Smith’s lawsuit, according to Newsday, he alleges that the High School’s Athletic Director (AD) pulled all of the varsity baseball players out of class one day, gathered them in the school auditorium, separated them from one another, and took their cellphones. The AD allegedly told the students to write “a critique” of Coach Smith. According to the complaint, the kids were told to “write if you think he’s too mean, write if you think he’s too old, write if you think he makes it no fun.” At no time did the AD give the kids the opportunity to contact their parents.
ADEA cases can be hard to prove because employers often cite other reasons for terminating someone’s employment. Employers, for example, may use negative performance reviews or a history of complaints about a worker’s conduct to justify firing an employee who is over 40. However, when there is no negative employment history, some employers may try to “create reasons” to terminate an older worker. Smith and his supporters believe this is what Garden City tried to do to him. The lawsuit also contains the claim that after its decision not to extend his contract, the district released the false and hurtful statement that “Coach Smith was not being renewed due to extreme and unusual circumstances.”
Whether the school district fired Smith because of his advanced age remains to be seen. Some parents believe the school got rid of him to satisfy “whiny parents” whose kids were not getting enough playing time. If the district forced the baseball team to write negative things about the coach to create a pretense to discharge him, the court will decide if that conduct violated the ADEA, and Smith may receive compensation or reinstatement.
Leeds Brown Law, P.C., representing clients on Long Island and the surrounding metro area, knows what it takes to prove an employment discrimination claim. We handle cases that arise under the ADEA, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act and more. If you have experienced discrimination because of:
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