The first black head football coach at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette was not fired in 2001 because of the color of his skin but because his teams posted a 6-27 record in three seasons, an attorney for the school told a Baton Rouge judge Tuesday.
“There is no evidence of race being a motivator’’ in the firing of Jerry Baldwin, argued Stephen Oats, who represents the ULL Board of Supervisors in Baldwin’s long-running lawsuit against the board.
Baldwin’s attorney, Karl Bernard, argued to the contrary, and said a jury should be allowed to decide Baldwin’s race discrimination claim and other claims.
The ULL board is asking state District Judge Todd Hernandez to throw out Baldwin’s claims, including the discrimination claim, before the case is retried. The trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 31.
Hernandez took Oats’ and Bernard’s arguments under advisement.
An East Baton Rouge Parish jury awarded Baldwin $2 million in 2007, but the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge threw out the verdict in 2009 and ordered a new trial.
The appellate court cited problems with jury selection, confusion over the jury verdict form and an expert witness who should not have been allowed to testify. State District Judge Don Johnson presided over the first trial.
Oats argued Tuesday that the 12-person jury voted unanimously that Baldwin was not fired because of his race, but Bernard pointed out that the panel voted 9-3 that race was a “determinative factor.’’
Oats, who said the jury never should have been asked the question that drew the 9-3 vote, insisted that Baldwin was fired because of his win-loss record.
“Six wins, 27 losses — the worst in the history of the university,’’ he argued. “Six and 27.’’
Bernard said ULL knew when it hired Baldwin that it would take time to turn the struggling football program around because the “cupboard was bare’’ when he took over.
Oats noted the same administration officials now accused of racial discrimination are the same people who gave Baldwin the job as the first black head football coach at a major Louisiana university.
Oats said those officials should be “commended’’ for their diversity efforts.
Bernard announced at the start of the hearing that all claims against former ULL Athletic Director Nelson Schexnayder were being dismissed.
Oats and Bernard also argued extensively over Baldwin’s breach of contract claim.
Oats said Bernard was terminated after the third year of a four-year contract but was paid for the entire four-year period.
“His removal was pursuant to the contract,’’ Oats stated.
Bernard said Baldwin was not given a 30-day written notice that he was going to be terminated, which denied him a chance to resign and leave ULL without a “black eye.’’
“As a result of how he was fired, Coach Baldwin’s coaching career came to an abrupt end. It was over,’’ Bernard argued. “Nobody wanted to touch him because of the way he was fired.’’
Oats countered that Schexnayder gave Baldwin a chance to resign. ULL also contends that Baldwin was fired because of poor attendance at home football games.
Baldwin was an assistant coach at LSU from 1993 until 1999 when he was hired by ULL. Baldwin is now a minister in north Louisiana.