VALDOSTA — A federal appeals court overturned a lower court’s ruling this week in the lawsuit by former Valdosta High School football coach Alan Rodemaker, saying the suit fails to show “sufficient facts” he was racially discriminated against when the school board did not renew his contract, court documents show.
The Valdosta Board of Education voted not to renew the contract for Rodemaker, who is white, Jan. 28, 2020, in a 5-4 vote; the vote was rerun Feb. 11 with the same result.
The five board members who voted to let Rodemaker go — Liz Shumphard, Tyra Howard, Kelisa Brown, Warren Lee and Debra Bell — are all Black while the four who voted to retain him are white, the lawsuit said.
Rodemaker believed the decision not to renew his contract was racially motivated, aided and abetted by “illegal meetings held by the African-American Board members,” the lawsuit states.
Shumphard, Howard, Brown, Lee and Bell are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The five defendants filed motions in the Middle District of Georgia federal court for dismissal on grounds of “qualified immunity” for government officers. The district court denied those motions Dec. 1.
“After excluding Plaintiff’s conclusory allegations, the Court finds that his remaining allegations are sufficient to nudge his race discrimination claim ‘across the line from conceivable to plausible,’" according to Middle District court documents.
The defendants appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which ruled Tuesday that the lower court erred by not dismissing Rodemaker’s complaint.
“Rodemaker did not plead sufficient facts about the defendants’ racially discriminatory intent,” the appeals court wrote. “The mere fact that the school board’s vote occurred along racial lines, which Rodemaker emphasizes, does not establish that the defendants discriminated against him because he was white.”
The district court’s decision was vacated and the case has been remanded for further proceedings.
Sam Dennis, Rodemaker’s attorney, said he will request the appeals court order be reconsidered.
“This has no bearing on the other pending lawsuits and the Title 7 Right to Sue that was provided to the Rodemakers by the (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission),” Dennis said in a statement to The Times. “The 11th Circuit order does not go to the merits of Mr. Rodemaker’s case. Since the original motion to dismiss, more depositions have strongly shown Alan Rodemaker was not treated properly by the majority of the Valdosta school board who voted against him. Coach Alan Rodemaker will continue to pursue a remedy in the court system for his wrongful nonrenewal.”
Rodemaker is currently the defensive coordinator at Colquitt County.