9th Circuit Court of Appeals finds Non-renewal of an Employment Contract may be an Adverse Employment Action Under Title IX
Posted on September 16, 2022
Important takeaways: The head golf coach at Carroll College filed suit claiming the college retaliated against him by not renewing his contract after he had made reports of possible Title IX violations in the college’s athletic department. The college claimed the nonrenewal was due to budgeting issues. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the coach had shown the nonrenewal may be in retaliation to the reporting of Title IX violations, making it an adverse employment action. The Court remanded the issue back down to the district court to determine if the college had a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the non-renewal.
Facts: Bennett MacIntyre was the golf coach, Community Living Director, and Associate Athletic Director at Carroll College from 2006 to 2016. He sued Carroll under a Title IX retaliation claim, stating the college refused to renew his contract after he complained about gender inequities in the college’s athletic department. The college claimed budget cuts were the actual reason MacIntyre’s contract was not renewed.
In 2015 MacIntyre put in his self-evaluation that he aimed to make Carroll Athletics more Title IX compliant. In 2016, MacIntyre also informed Renee McMahon, Title IX Coordinator, about potential Title IX violations. At this time, MacIntyre also reported workplace harassment and a hostile work environment involving the Interim Director of Athletics and President of Carroll College. A month later, the Interim Director of Athletics submitted MacIntyre’s performance review and gave him the lowest possible score in each category and MacIntyre responded by filing a formal grievance. This situation was resolved by the college paying MacIntyre $15,000 in back pay, hiring him as a full-time golf coach, and removing the negative review from his file.
MacIntyre’s contract as the head golf coach was effective July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2018, and did not include any renewal provisions. This contract was not renewed at the end of the term. The college claimed it was a one-time contract and MacIntyre claimed it was not called a one-time contract and he expected it would be renewed. Around this time the college did propose a $200,000 cut to the athletic department and to make the golf coach a stipend position instead of full-time. After not being renewed, MacIntyre filed suit, alleging the non-renewal was retaliation for complaining about Title IX violations, making it an adverse employment action.
To show an adverse employment action without direct evidence, one must make a prima facie (on the first impression) case by showing that they were engaged in protected activity, they suffered an adverse action, and there was a causal link between the two. Once this is shown, the defendant, here the college, must show a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the action. An adverse employment action is one that might have dissuaded a reasonable person from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the nonrenewal of an employment contract is similar to other forms of retaliation and likely to deter a reasonable employee from reporting discrimination. The Court also held that MacIntyre met his prima facie case that he had suffered an adverse employment action when the college did not renew his contract. Even if the college had no obligation to renew the contract, their decision not to may be an adverse action because it is reasonably likely to deter an employee from engaging in protected activity, in this case, reporting Title IX violations. The 9th Circuit remanded the case back to the district court to determine in the college had a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the non-renewal.
What this means: Nonrenewal of an employment contract may be an adverse employment action under Title IX retaliation since it would reasonably prevent the employee from reporting a possible Title IX violation. The employee must show they were engaged in protected activity, they suffered an adverse action, and there was a causal link between the two. The employer must show they had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the nonrenewal to defeat a finding of retaliation.
What is the name of the case and where you can read it: MacIntyre v. Carroll College, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, September 8, 2022. Read it here.
As you consider these and other issues, we recommend you speak with your school lawyer or contact Bea, Megan, Beth, and Kevin by email or at 406-542-1300 to discuss these issues.