Auburn Athletic Dept: Federal Court Racism Claim

The 2010 opening of the new Auburn basketball arena was a triumph for the school’s athletic department.

Auburn Athletic Department Faces Racial Discrimination Charge By Nine Former Employees

But Auburn Athletic Department staff layoffs during the transition from the Beard-Eaves Coliseum to the new facility has precipitated an ugly dispute now scheduled to play out in Federal Court.

Of the 11 employees who lost their Auburn Athletic Department jobs during the move, 10 were black, according to a racial discrimation lawsuit against Auburn filed in a U.S. District Court in Alabama earlier this year. The plaintiffs in the case, represented by Montgomery lawyer Julian McPhillips, are nine of those 10 black individuals no longer in the employ of Auburn Athletics.

The case is currently scheduled for an early-2012 jury trial in a small town a few miles from the Auburn campus: Opelika, Alabama.

Auburn Athletic Department Faces Racial Discrimination Charge By Nine Former Employees

In its initial response to the Federal Court legal action, Auburn acknowledged the layoffs from the AU Athletic Department but denied racial discrimination as a factor in the process.

In the Federal Court complaint against Auburn, each of the nine plaintiffs made specific claims as to having received less pay than white employees with similar jobs and various other negative treatment by their Auburn Athletic Department employers attributable only to their race.

I’ve obtained the Federal Court complaint against Auburn. Here’s an excerpt of some of the claims made by the nine plaintiffs against Auburn:

STATEMENT OF FACTS

(a) As to All Plaintiffs

22. All plaintiffs aver that, based upon their experience, they can say with certainty that there is a rampant actual discrimination against African-American employees in the Auburn University Athletic Department. Plaintiffs further aver that only 2% of the employees of the defendant’s Athletic Department were African-Americans, even before a reorganization in May, 2010 eliminated ten (10) more, and notwithstanding that 75-80% of the football players are black, and approximately 95% of the basketball players are black.

23. All plaintiffs aver that, at the time of the filing of their race discrimination charges in June 2010, there were no blacks in the following divisions of the AU Athletic Department: (a) turf management; (b) media relations; (c) marketing; (d) sports medicine; (e) athletic training; (f) equipment; (g) ticket office; and (h) recruiting, although in the latter category, some black students were used as Tiger hostesses, but not as full-time black employees.

24. All plaintiffs aver that, when defendant Auburn University’s football tickets were made available for employees, all white employees were offered tickets with no restrictions. However, African-American employees had to “put their names in a hat,” where only five (5) black employees would receive tickets for any particular game, and said African-American employees were also subject to having to sign their names to a list, something which white employees did not have to do.

25. All plaintiffs also aver that, in the reorganization which took place in May, 2010, eleven (11) employees of the Athletic Department were terminated, and ten (10) of those employees were black. Plaintiffs also aver that at the new basketball arena, at the time of the
reorganization, only one (1) black employee, namely Roger Tate, was moving over. This does not include coaches.

26. All plaintiffs aver that the race discrimination practiced against them has been  systematic, endemic, and reflective of a long-term practice of intentional race discrimination practiced by defendant Auburn University against black employees, especially in the Athletic Department.

Of particular interest in any lawsuit such as this is an allegation that can be verified as non-contestable fact.

If Allegation #24 is indeed fact, that …

when defendant Auburn University’s football tickets were made available for employees, all white employees were offered tickets with no restrictions. However, African-American employees had to “put their names in a hat,” where only five (5) black employees would receive tickets for any particular game, and said African-American employees were also subject to having to sign their names to a list, something which white employees did not have to do.

… then the Auburn Athletic Department has some serious explaining to do.

That said, in its official response to the Federal Court complaint, Auburn flatly denied that such a method for the dispersal of football tickets within the AU Athletic Department existed.

Auburn Athletic Department Faces Racial Discrimination Charge By Nine Former Employees

More specifically, Auburn’s official legal response to Allegation #24 in the Federal Court-filed complaint was: “DENIED.

So what are the plaintiffs seeking as retribution for the Auburn Athletic Department’s alleged racial discrimination?

From the Federal Court complaint:

WHEREFORE, PREMISES CONSIDERED, plaintiffs respectfully pray that this Court grant the following relief:

a) Judgment declaring that the defendant discriminated against plaintiff, due to their black race;

b) An injunction reinstating the plaintiffs into their jobs with the Auburn University Athletic Department, and granting plaintiffs compensation for all back pay, benefits, and other rights to which plaintiffs would have been entitled, had they not been the victims of race discrimination, effective from the date of final judgment, together with lost pay for the period plaintiffs were out of work and not receiving income;

c) An award of all court costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees, including those incurred for seeking administrative relief

d) An award of compensatory damages, including for mental anguish, to which plaintiffs may be entitled;

e) An award of punitive damage; and

Such further, other and different relief as the Court may deem appropriate and necessary.

Auburn in its response to the complaint denied all of the racial discrimination charges and, at least publicly, appears to have no plans for a settlement or mediation of any kind.

Though, if a day-old local media report is any indication, that stance may be softening.

Saturday the OPELIKA-AUBURN NEWS reported:

At a council meeting earlier this month, Ward 1 Councilman Arthur Dowdell threatened to lead a sit-in on campus if AU President Jay Gogue did not meet with employees who filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the university in federal court.

Dowdell, who is black, has since backed off the threat:

Dowdell said he called off the sit-in after speaking with the employees’ lawyer and Gogue’s office earlier this week.

“I think they wanted to do the thing that is right,” Dowdell said.

The employees’ attorney, Julian McPhillips, said he could not discuss any developments in the lawsuit, which is tentatively scheduled for trial in February 2012.

I think there are some positive movements toward a resolution, but I don’t want to say more at this time,” McPhillips said.

Earlier this month after Dowdell made his demands, McPhillips and AU officials said there were no plans for mediation in the case at the time.

If it isn’t guilty, why would Auburn consider settling the racial discrimination case?

Auburn Athletic Department Faces Racial Discrimination Charge By Nine Former Employees

Let’s countdown the reasons, shall we?

#7) Despite repeated objections from Auburn’s legal team, Auburn President Jay Gogue and Athletic Director Jay Jacobs may soon be faced with providing depositions in response to the wide-ranging racial discrimation charges.

In its attempt to convince the court that Gogue should not be deposed, Auburn lawyer Kelly Pate wrote in court documents:

Forcing the depositions of Auburn’s highest-ranking officials would impose an undue burden and annoyance, especially given that they have no unique personal knowledge. It would place an unreasonable burden upon President Gogue, and cause significant and unnecessary disruption to Auburn, if he were forced to be deposed in every instance, like this one.

Auburn has proffered a similar defense for Jacobs, claiming he had no personal knowledge of why exactly 11 Auburn Athletic Department employees - 10 of them black - were laid off during the school’s high-profile transition to a new arena.

Auburn Athletic Department Faces Racial Discrimination Charge By Nine Former Employees

Pate’s efforts may ultimately prove fruitful for Gogue and Jacobs, as Judge Terry F. Moorer on Friday ordered that the plaintiffs must immediately “show cause” as to why depositions from Gogue and Jacobs would be material to the case.

#6) According to court documents, two current Auburn professors have agreed to testify against their employers in the case: Dr. Evelyn Crayton and Dr. Paul Waddy. Also on the witness list submitted by the nine individuals suing Auburn in Federal Court for racial discrimination: Current Auburn academic instructor Shirley Sydnor, former Auburn professor Dr. Tony Guarino, former Auburn professor Dr. Shirley Barnes and former Auburn Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employment Director Janet Saunders - who the plaintiffs claim in a court filing will detail her knowledge of past racial discrimination complaints made against the school by employees.

#5) None of the above accounts for the extensive local and perhaps national coverage of the Federal racial discrimination case - coverage that might not portray Auburn in a flattering light even if it scores a decisive legal victory.

#4) Court documents already provide clues as to what that media coverage could entail, like the fact that Auburn quietly settled another racial discrimination lawsuit involving six black employees last year. And that the school has so far refused to release any records of racial discrimination complaints made against the school the past six years - despite repeated requests by the Julian McPhillips, the lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Why won’t Auburn give up those records? Federal Court documents for the case included this defense from Auburn attorney Kelly Pate:

The broad request is not relevant to the subject matter of this litigation.

Even if the court finds that Auburn does not have to release such records, its public refusal to do so doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in its claims of racial tolerance in the workplace.

#3) Equally uninspiring is Auburn asking the presiding judge to prevent the lawyer for the plaintiffs, Julian McPhillips, from asking Auburn’s current Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employment Director Kerry Taylor in her upcoming deposition about any racial discrimination complaints made by Auburn employees besides the nine plaintiffs in question. To that end, AU lawyer Pate wrote in court documents: 

Such unlimited inquiry would be used, instead, to annoy, embarrass or burden Auburn and, particularly, Ms. Taylor.

Auburn has agreed to allow Plaintiffs to inquire as to Ms. Taylor’s credentials and her methodology for conducting internal investigations of complaints that are brought to Auburn’s AA/EEO office.

Discovery beyond these two subjects should not be permitted, as it would not be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and would serve only to annoy and burden this witness and her employer.

Uh, okay.

#2) Submitting to the relatively nominal demands (at least for now) of the plantiffs seems a logical option for the school in lieu of a protracted legal battle against an attorney in McPhillips who, if court documents are any indication, will dedicate his case to portraying Auburn as one of the South’s last remaining vestiges of institutional racism.

Auburn Athletic Department Faces Racial Discrimination Charge By Nine Former Employees

#1) Recruiting.

Brooks can be reached on Twitter, Facebook and directly at sportsbybrooks@gmail.com

Chizik Video: “Being Great Is Really Expensive”

Here’s a short ESPNU clip featuring Auburn football coach Gene Chizik after his team’s recent spring football game.


Chizik to the Auburn players: “Being great is what?
Auburn players: “Expensive
Chizik to Auburn players: “Being great is what?
Auburn players: “Expensive
Chizik to Auburn players: “Gonna cost you a lot, gonna cost you a lot. But we can get there. Saw a lot of good flashes of some things that happened, today. But being great is really expensive.”

Hearing that, I can’t help but think back to this excerpt from a profile of Auburn Executive Associate Athletics Director Tim Jackson authored by Kevin Scarbinsky and published in the BIRMINGHAM NEWS two months ago: Read more…

A New Lowder: Forthright Reformed A.U. Devotee?

A reader recently sent me this photo of Auburn booster Bobby Lowder at the BCS Championship Game in Glendale:

Photo: Bobby Lowder at BCS Championship Game

(Hidden message in headline? Why, I had no idea)

My receipt of said image was only upon our mutual agreement that I’d post the photo after the game.

Seeing Lowder luxuriating in his proudest moment as an alumnus of Auburn got me to thinking about his much-rumored status at his alma mater.

The 30-year AU Trustee, who to this day oversees the entire Auburn University budget each year, once presided over a sprawling, Alabama-based financial empire. But that all changed in 2009, when the money center Lowder founded himself, Colonial Bank, crashed and burned, resulting in the sixth-largest bank failure in United States history.

Before his colossal business failure, which still includes a slew of legal issues that aren’t going away anytime soon, Lowder was generally regarded as the most powerful major college football booster in the country. After all, Lowder controlled a billion-dollar banking concern while simultaneously being personally entrusted the entire Auburn school budget.

But with his business career in ashes, most recently the media has begun reporting the seeming demise of Lowder’s influence at Auburn.

Bobby Lowder

(Could a booster actually run an SEC school’s entire budget? Ask Bobby.)

Most prominent of those effective eulogies was a piece by Pete Thamel of the NEW YORK TIMES. Published two days before the BCS Championship Game, the article was titled, “Auburn’s Kingmaker Isn’t Sharing in the Moment.”

Excerpts:

If No. 1 Auburn defeats No. 2 Oregon on Monday night for its first national football championship since 1957, it should be a crowning moment for Lowder. But some say his power has dwindled since his actions in 2003 helped land Auburn on academic probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional accreditation agency.

… Lowder’s power has waned since the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools threatened to strip Auburn of its accreditation, citing the meddlesome trustees and their interlocking ties to Lowder as a reason for probation.

Lowder’s efforts to oust (former head football coach Tommy) Tuberville as coach failed, though Tuberville was fired after the 2008 season and replaced by Gene Chizik, his former defensive coordinator.

Thamel and his sources are not alone in their claims of erosion of Lowder’s power base. But in accounting for actual events at Auburn in recent years, there appears to be no such indication that the booster is going the way of the brontosaurus.

After the Colonial meltdown, Lowder moved from his longtime residence in Montgomery to a fulltime Auburn abode.

Since the aforementioned kerfuffle with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools during the mid-2000s, Lowder has presided over the promotion of his personal protege, Jay Jacobs, to Auburn Athletic Director. Jacobs had been previously charged with overseeing the private “Tigers Unlimited” fundraising arm over which Lowder has long had ultimate control.

Speaking of Tigers Unlimited, Jacobs’ replacement as executive director of the organization,Tim Jackson, was noted in the BIRMINGHAM NEWS Sunday for his wide-ranging influence within the Auburn football program.

Then there’s the hiring of head football coach Gene Chizik, who was tapped to take over one of the country’s most prestigious football programs despite a career coaching record of 5-19. Chizik’s hire was met with violent opposition by the Auburn fanbase, with AD Jacobs hounded in public by hecklers aiming to humiliate him for making such a move.

As you might expect, the Chizik hire left everyone in the college football world wondering why Auburn would hire someone with a 5-19 career coaching record. Read more…

Auburn Fundraiser: Football Like “NFL Franchise”

Sunday Kevin Scarbinsky of the BIRMINGHAM NEWS profiled Tim Jackson, “the No. 2 man in the Auburn athletics department behind AD Jay Jacobs.

Tim Jackson General Manager of Auburn Football

Scarbinsky noted Jackson’s considerable influence on the football program:

Jackson said director of football relations Wayne Bolt jokingly called him “Steinbrenner,” a reference to the late owner of the New York Yankees, who was hands-on with his team to the point of suffocation at times.

Jackson is there at every Auburn football practice and every team meeting, often in a suit because he also attends senior staff meetings, but he’s more like Auburn’s general manager. That’s become his nickname among players and coaches alike: GM.

If you aren’t sure what “GM” stands for, Jackson explained the nickname to Scarbinsky:

In a rare interview in his office Thursday, Jackson said the leadership of Auburn football breaks down like that of an NFL franchise. “Jay Jacobs is the owner. Gene’s the head coach. I’m the general manager.”

Chizik said their management structure “is probably unique in college football. This may not work for everybody else. It works for us. Everybody is on the same page.”

It works because Chizik and Jackson have a unique bond and level of trust for a coach and administrator, especially at Auburn, where the last two head coaches, Terry Bowden and Tommy Tuberville, seemed at constant odds with “the suits.”

In the NFL, a team’s general manager is usually responsible for overseeing the football operation, which includes deciding the level of compensation afforded to players and coaches.

In his profile of Jackson, Scarbinsky reported, “Jacobs gave Jackson administrative oversight of the football program. Chizik didn’t just accept Jackson’s role. He embraced it and expanded it.

More: Read more…

AU AD Indicates All Players Eligible; Chizik Silent

Earlier today I reported that despite Auburn football coach Gene Chizik’s repeated refusals to confirm that all Auburn football players were currently academically eligible to play, the entire squad traveled to Arizona Monday to continue preparations for the BCS Championship Game against Oregon on Jan. 10.

(If you believe Auburn Athletic Jay Jacobs, it does.)

After the Tigers arrived in the Phoenix area following a flight from Atlanta, Auburn247sports.com Senior Editor Phillip Marshall followed up on the subject of player academic eligibility with Chizik. The coach, once again, was silent on the issue. But Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs was a different story. Read more…

Chizik, AU President Have Something In Common

One of the great mysteries of the universe, or at least the SEC West Division, was the inexplicable hiring of Gene Chizik as head football coach of Auburn in 2008.

auburn president jay gogue takes heat for chizik hire

(Auburn President: Radio silence on Newton story, FBI arrests)

Though a former defensive coordinator for the Tigers, Chizik had just completed coaching Iowa State to a 5-19 record when he was offered one of the most prestigious jobs in college football.

Even stranger though was the circumstances surrounding Chizik’s hire, which included school officials being heckled at an airport by Auburn fans before Chizik had even signed a contract. Though those events didn’t prevent current Auburn President Jay Gogue from taking complete responsibility for the hire.

From an ASSOCIATED PRESS report shortly after Chizik was hired:

Auburn University President Jay Gogue said he made the decision to hire football coach Gene Chizik, and he said he did it without seeking or receiving input from school trustees or other boosters.

Gogue told The Birmingham News in a story Thursday that the ex-Iowa State coach was the only candidate recommended by athletic director Jay Jacobs.

The hiring has drawn criticism by some Auburn fans because Chizik was only 5-19 in two seasons at Iowa State.

Gogue said he was “somewhat surprised” by the negative reaction.

Gogue said he wasn’t involved in interviewing any other candidate before meeting with Chizik and Jacobs Saturday in Memphis.

The president also instructed Jacobs to get permission from a school’s athletic director before interviewing a coach.

Gogue’s vocal defense of Auburn Athletics was ironic considering that he had previously admitted having nothing to do with the coaching search besides signing off on Chizik after Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs recommended him.

A Chizik who, despite his 5-19 Big 12 coaching record and then-current 10-game losing streak, was the only candidate Gogue talked to before making *his* hire.

Yet Gogue was “somewhat surprised” by the outrage over the hire?

Gogue is either too naive to be president of a major university or was not being entirely honest with the public.

I’m not so sure what’s so unbelievable, Chizik getting hired as head coach of an SEC powerhouse while on a 10-game coaching losing streak or the fact that the president of Auburn revealed that Chizik was the only candidate whom he was “recommended” by Jacobs.

Then again, we are talking Auburn, so perhaps “unbelievable” isn’t the best choice of a word here.

Immediately after Chizik was hired, on Dec. 15, 2008, the BIRMINGHAM NEWS reported: Read more…

TMZ: FBI Newton Probe Linked To Auburn Booster

Earlier today I reported that noted Auburn sports booster Milton McGregor was arrested by the FBI last month on political bribery allegations following a lengthy federal investigation that included wiretaps.

Milton McGregor

(Auburn Booster Milton McGregor, wiretapped, arrested by FBI)

TMZ.com is now reporting:

According to sources connected to the probe … FBI agents looking into the Newton recruiting controversy are also asking about Milton McGregor — a dog track owner arrested last month for allegedly bribing Alabama politicians to vote pro gambling.

We’re told agents asked someone connected to the Newton case if he was familiar with McGregor or the bribery scandal.

As I reported this morning, also arrested last month in the same FBI wiretap investigation was prominent Alabama lobbyist and Auburn alumnus Robert Geddie. Read more…

What if a Booster Ran an SEC School’s Budget?

On January 12, 2006, Mike Fish of ESPN.com published a lengthy piece on the “most powerful boosters” in college sports. At the top of the list was Oregon’s Phil Knight, Oklahoma State’s T. Boone Pickens and Auburn’s Bobby Lowder.

Bobby Lowder

(At Auburn, failed banker, megabooster Bobby Lowder oversees school budget)

Lowder is the former CEO and chairman of Colonial Bancgroup, a banking empire he founded in 1981. In 2009, Alabama-based Colonial was the largest bank failure in the United States and sixth-biggest bank failure in U.S. history. Lowder’s company was seized by Federal regulators in a collapse that reportedly cost the FDIC $2.8 billion.

In the aftermath of the Colonial failure, last month the OPELIKA-AUBURN NEWS reported:

The feds (FBI) are moving forward quickly toward prosecution of some 50 bank executives and directors of failed banks to recover as much as $1 billion paid out by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Lowder is being personally sued by Colonial employees for $50 million for alleged mismanagement of their retirement funds and the FBI has alleged that Colonial executives committed financial fraud totaling $1.9 billion. FORTUNE Senior Editor Brian O’Keefe also noted another Federal investigation of Lowder’s Colonial:

Perhaps most worrying for Lowder is an investigation by the FBI and the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program into Colonial’s so-called warehouse-lending business.

Colonial applied for $550 million in TARP funds last fall but was never cleared to receive a bailout. On Aug. 3, just 11 days before regulators shut down Colonial, agents raided the bank’s offices in downtown Orlando, where the warehouse lending was managed, and spent hours carting away boxes of documents.

After the Colonial meltdown, Lowder “retired” from his post at the bank. Despite the public ignominy that befell his finance career, Lowder continues to retain his seat on Auburn Board of Trustees. As the longest tenured member of the board, Lowder currently chairs the finance committee that oversees Auburn University entire budget - which includes the Auburn athletic department.

Of Lowder’s role at Auburn, Fortune’s O’Keefe wrote in 2009:

“His name might not be familiar outside Alabama, but he is easily one of the most feared, loathed, and some say misunderstood men to wield power in this state since George Wallace — the governor who first appointed him to the board in 1983.

“… Lowder has been accused of making backroom deals with governors and treating the Auburn football program like a private fiefdom. (Because of his influence over Auburn’s athletic program, three years ago ESPN named him the most powerful booster in college sports.)”

The BIRMINGHAM NEWS reported that some of the “big losers” in Lowder’s Colonial bank “dive” were former Auburn football coach Pat Dye and prominent Auburn booster and gambling business magnate Milton McGregor. McGregor reportedly owned $19 million in Colonial stock at one point. Lowder reportedly had many of his high-powered Auburn acquaintances, including McGregor, appointed to the Colonial Board of Directors.

As owner of the state’s largest electronic bingo casino, VictoryLand, Milton McGregor is one of the highest-profile Auburn boosters in the state. In 2008, he donated $1 million toward construction of the new Auburn basketball arena.

The morning of October, 4, 2010, the BIRMINGHAM NEWS reported:

FBI agents swept across Alabama this morning arresting state lawmakers and lobbyists as part of a federal probe into efforts to pass gambling legislation last spring.

The biggest name arrested so far has been VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor, who was arrested at his Montgomery home this morning.

Before McGregor was arrested by FBI agents, the Birmingham News reported of the ongoing investigation on May 7, 2010:

Sources familiar with the investigation have said the probe has included the use of wiretaps, and several lawmakers agreed to wear wires to capture the conversations between themselves, other lawmakers and lobbyists. Read more…