Judge Allows Ex-Tennis Coach to Continue Sex Discrimination Lawsuit Against SUNY Albany

Last October, we discussed an interesting sex discrimination lawsuit filed by the former women's tennis team at the State University of New York at Albany. The team's coach, Gordon Graham, successfully led the team for five seasons, when the university abruptly cancelled the entire program in March 2016. According to Graham, school officials then reassigned him to “meaningless administrative tasks” and made “deprecating remarks” about his age. Ultimately, SUNY Albany decided not to renew Graham's contract.

Judge: Men Can Also be Victims of Sex Discrimination Targeting Women

On July 26 of this year, U.S. Senior District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy rejected SUNY Albany's attempt to prematurely end the litigation. Specifically, the university argued that Graham, a man, could not pursue a sex discrimination claim under Title IX, the statute that forbids federally funded universities (like SUNY Albany) from “excluding” or denying benefits to anyone “on the basis of sex.” As the university sees the case, Graham is not alleging discrimination on the basis of his sex, but rather the sex of his former players.

Judge McAvoy disagreed with that characterization. While Title IX does not allow a person to bring a claim “premised on the discrimination that others experienced,” that is not what Graham's lawsuit alleges. Indeed, Graham argues that he was personally a “victim of SUNY Albany's sex discrimination” when it terminated the women's tennis program–and thus left him without a coaching position–in violation of Title IX. McAvoy noted this was similar to a 2004 case, where a federal judge in Manhattan held the former male coach of a women's basketball team at Fordham University could bring a title IX claim against the school because his program received “inferior resources and opportunities” as the result of sex discrimination.

In the present case, McAvoy noted that Title IX “is aimed at preventing sex discrimination at federally supported institutions.” Graham has alleged sex discrimination. The fact that he is a man is not necessarily relevant. Indeed, McAvoy pointed out that by SUNY Albany's reasoning, a coach “could only have a [Title IX] claim if he were a woman coaching women,” which would “unnecessarily” restrict the scope of the law.

That said, McAvoy did reject Graham's claim for punitive damages under Title IX. The judge's reasoning here is that Title IX liability effectively arises from a contract situation–i.e., a university accepts federal funds on the condition it not engage in sex discrimination. As a general rule, punitive damages are “not available for breach of contract” cases. Graham can still seek compensatory damages, however, should he ultimately prevail on his Title IX claim.

How Can a New York Sex Discrimination Lawyer Help You?

Sex and gender discrimination continues to affect far too many New Yorkers. If you have been affected by such discrimination, the law may entitle you to seek damages against the responsible parties. Contact the experienced New York employment lawyers at Nisar Law Group, P.C., today if you need advice or assistance in dealing with a discriminatory work situation.


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