The University of Louisiana System and its Lafayette campus did not breach a former head football coach’s contract when he was fired, according to Louisiana’s highest court.
The state Supreme Court ruling reverses the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal that found in the former coach’s favor over the contract issue.
A separate claim by Jerry Baldwin, where he alleges UL-Lafayette acted with racial bias and fired him because he’s black, was not addressed in Wednesday’s ruling by Louisiana Supreme Court justices.
The 6-1 ruling held that Baldwin’s contract had been honored in full when he was fired in November 2001. The firing followed a three-season record of six wins and 27 losses.
The Wednesday ruling was based on a section of Baldwin’s contract obligating the university to honor its payment agreements but with “no guarantee or promise of continued employment,” according to the nine-page ruling.
“Since the contract did not guarantee Baldwin continued employment as UL’s head football coach for the duration of the term of the contract, defendants acted within their contractual rights in relieving Baldwin of his coaching duties, while maintaining him as payroll employee,” Justice John Weimer wrote.
In an accompanying two-page dissent, Chief Justice Bernette Johnson sided with Baldwin’s attorneys, who argued that the university breached a stipulation requiring a 30-day notice before the agreement could be terminated.
“To relieve Mr. Baldwin of all duties under the employment contract cannot be characterized as anything other than termination,” Johnson wrote.
UL-Lafayette’s attorneys argued that because Baldwin continued to receive payments and benefits until his contract expired Jan. 31, 2003, his contract never was terminated. Baldwin was released from his duties in a letter dated Nov. 27, 2001, which specified he was fired Nov. 26, the day before.
“The Supreme Court argued that there was somehow a separation between his role as a head coach on the sideline and his contract,” said New Orleans attorney G. Karl Bernard, who is representing Baldwin.
The Supreme Court’s ruling overturns a 1st Circuit opinion that fell in Baldwin’s favor. That 1st Circuit opinion overturned state District Judge Todd Hernandez’s ruling that UL-Lafayette was within contractual boundaries. Because of the Supreme Court ruling, Hernandez’s original 2011 ruling now stands.
“Judge Hernandez made the right call, and the Supreme Court backed him overwhelmingly,” said Steve Oats, one of the Lafayette attorneys representing the UL System’s Board of Supervisors, UL-Lafayette and Nelson Schexnayder, who was the university’s athletics director during Baldwin’s time as head coach.
Baldwin — the first black head coach of any 1-A program in Louisiana, where college football has been played since 1893 — has another standing claim against the university that he was fired for racial reasons.
That trial date has not been set.
Baldwin was hired by former University of Southwestern Louisiana President Ray Authement in December 1998 on a four-year contract. Baldwin coached for three seasons, winning just 18 percent of the games.
He’s now a pastor at New Living Word Ministries in Ruston.
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