The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is appealing a jury decision that the university must pay fired football coach Jerry Baldwin $2 million in damages after the panel determined race was among the reasons for his 2001 dismissal.
Baldwin was the first Black head football coach at a major Louisiana university. A district court jury decided 10-2 in October that he was owed damages for discrimination, emotional distress and breach of contract.
ULL’s attorney, Larry Marino, took the case to the state’s First Circuit Court of Appeal on Wednesday after District Judge Don Johnson denied Marino’s request for a retrial.
“On appeal, it’s going to come out very clearly that we had a confused, runaway jury,” Marino said. He added that “there was an inappropriate member on that jury: a woman who had an unresolved claim of discrimination by her White supervisor and yet the judge let her stay on the jury.”
“UL’s got a long and proud history of diversity, racial diversity, not least of which was hiring Coach Baldwin in the first place,” Marino said. “After a 6-27 record, we let him go, and there was not a stitch of evidence that his race was a reason that he was fired.”
Marino argued Wednesday that, in addition to Baldwin’s losing record, other reasons for his dismissal included poor attendance at his last few home games and a lack of community support for the football program.
The jury of six Blacks and six Whites found that race wasn’t the only reason Baldwin was fired but did play a part, according to the answers they provided on the long verdict form.
Baldwin’s attorney, Karl Bernard, argued that clear evidence supported the verdict.
The judge said jurors may draw “reasonable inferences” from evidence, and he was not prepared to question the jury’s verdict.
“It is not the role of the trial court to second-guess the trier of fact” unless the trier of fact strays, Johnson said. “I do not believe that the jury ventured off course in deciding its verdict.”
Marino said the verdict was illogical.
“They held that Coach Baldwin was not fired because of his race, but they also held that race was a determining factor in his firing. That’s inconsistent,” Marino said. “You also have them saying breach of contract, but in finding that, also finding there was an abuse of rights. … How can you find an abuse of rights if there was a breach of contract?”
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