Take 5

Court Denies University’s Motion to Dismiss Title VI Claim in Assault Case

In a recent ruling, the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York denied a motion by the State University of New York at Albany (the “University”) to dismiss a Title VI claim brought by former student and basketball player, Luke Fizulich. The court, however, granted the University’s motion to dismiss a breach of contract claim due to Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Fizulich, a white male, alleged that he was assaulted by Dwayne Killings, the Head Coach of Men’s Basketball and a black male, during an away game against Eastern Illinois University in November 2021. The University investigated the incident and initially decided to terminate Killings’ employment. However, following pressure from business and civil rights leaders, the University reversed its decision.

Fizulich claimed that the University’s decision to retain Killings was based purely on his race and that it showed preference to his assaulter because of his race. He also alleged that the University’s decision forced him to play under unbearable conditions, effectively excluding him from participation in his sport and denying him the benefits that brought him to the University in the first place.

The court found that Fizulich’s allegations plausibly support a minimal inference of discriminatory motivation. The court stated, “As alleged, the University’s choice to retain Killings, despite his assault of plaintiff, one of its students, represents highly questionable decision-making. So questionable, in fact, that it plausibly supports a minimal inference that the decision was colored by discriminatory motivation.”

The court ordered the University to file an answer to the Title VI claim by August 3, 2023. The breach of contract claim was dismissed without prejudice, allowing Fizulich the option to pursue this claim in the appropriate state court.

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