Monday, April 21, 2008

Jury should hear coach's claims he was fired for interracial marriage: Court

A white former Iona College hoops coach scored big Tuesday in his two-year battle to prove he was fired because his wife is black.

The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan said a jury should hear Craig Holcomb's claims that top-ranking officials at the Westchester school allowed racists to oust him from his job as top assistant to axed Iona basketball coach Jeff Ruland.

The court said a lower-court judge was wrong to toss out Holcomb's discrimination claim and sent the case back to trial.

In a first-of-its-kind decision, the court ruled that even though Holcomb is white, he still can make a claim that he was discriminated against because of his association with a black woman.

Holcomb accused Iona Vice President and former Athletic Director Richard Petriccione of repeatedly using the N-word to refer to black players and of calling a Nigerian employee a "jungle bunny."

In 2000, Holcomb says, he asked Petriccione if he'd received the invitation for his wedding to Pamela Gauthier, an African-American. According to Holcomb, Petriccione responded: "You're really going to marry that Aunt Jemima? You really are a n----r lover."

Petriccione also drew a racially tinged comparison between his players and those at rival Fordham, Holcomb said.

"Everybody at Fordham thinks they have these good black kids and Iona has n-----s," Petriccione said, according to Holcomb's complaint.

Petriccione has denied making the remarks.

School officials say they were "extremely perplexed" by the court's decision and claim that Holcomb was fired for poor performance.

"Diversity is one of the tenets upon which Iona's foundation and history is built," the school said in a statement. "The college is firm in its resolve to vigorously defend itself in this case."

Holcomb was fired in 2004 after refusing to resign and now teaches physical education at a Westchester high school.

"He's very happy to have his chance to have his day in court so that he can let the truth be told," said Holcomb's lawyer Jeffrey Udell.

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