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March Madness Taking Hold of Sixth Circuit

March gets the blood flowing for all of us basketball fans, and it appears the Sixth Circuit is no different. Last week, while many of you were game-casting or locating the "hide" button on your Web browser, the Sixth Circuit got its basketball fix by affirming two district court decisions—one plaintiff filed suit over her termination as the girls' varsity basketball coach in Hazel Park, Michigan; and another plaintiff, a former basketball player at Central Michigan University, filed suit against her former coach at CMU.

In Fuhr v. Hazel Park School District, in a published opinion, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Geraldine Fuhr's claim that Hazel Park retaliated against her. In 1999 Fuhr successfully filed a prior lawsuit against Hazel Park for not being hired as the boys' head varsity coach due to gender discrimination. Eventually in 2004 the court instated Fuhr as the boys' head coach, which made Fuhr the head of both the boys' and girls' teams. In 2006 Hazel Park fired Fuhr from her position as the girls' head coach, citing Fuhr's inability to oversee two teams that were set to play simultaneously. Fuhr alleged that Hazel Park removed her in retaliation for her prior lawsuit. Affirming the district court, and perhaps the reason for publishing the opinion, the Sixth Circuit said that a two-year "multi-year gap" is fatal to showing a causal connection between the protected act (her successful lawsuit) and the alleged retaliatory act (Fuhr's removal as the girls' head coach).

In Heike v. Guevara, the facts tell the story of a star high school player turned Division 1 benchwarmer at CMU who had her scholarship revoked after her sophomore season. Heike, a star from Romeo High School, essentially argued that Guevara, a coach who took over at CMU in Heike's sophomore season, revoked her scholarship either because she was white or because she was heterosexual. Guevara basically maintained Heike was not good enough to play Division 1 basketball. The Sixth Circuit rejected all of Heike's claims, finding that Heike did not suffer a deprivation of due process or equal protection of the laws. As the court put it: "disappointment and frustration with a coach's conduct do not, without more, entitle a player to legal relief."

So, while some of you anxiously await Thursday for your team to play and, if you are like me, to see how much more wrong you could have been when you filled out your bracket, I hope you enjoyed March Madness Sixth Circuit style!

© 2019 Varnum LLP


About this Author

Kyle Konwinski, Litigation lawyer, Varnum

Kyle’s practice is commercial litigation. He has represented clients in a wide array of litigation, including trials, administrative trials, and on appeal. He has unique experience in environmental/land-use litigation and Employee Retirement Income Security Act litigation. Kyle has recovered millions of dollars for companies throughout the state that were victims of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan's ERISA violations.

As for the environmental and land use area, Kyle has trial and appellate experience with contested case hearings in the Michigan Administrative...