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Fired Football Coach Eyes Damages in Louisiana

(CN) - A football coach fired from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette may be entitled to damages because the school failed to give him notice, an appeals court ruled.

Jerry Lee Baldwin was hired to coach the ULL Ragin' Cajuns in 1999 on a four-year contract. In 2000, the Cajuns went 1-10, defeating only the University of Louisiana at Monroe by three points.

Though the team improved to 3-8 in 2001, Baldwin lost his job two days after the Cajuns' season-ending 31-0 loss to Central Florida.

He sued the school, athletic director Nelson Schexnayder and the Board of Supervisors of the University of Louisiana system, alleging racial discrimination, breach of contract, tortious interference and infliction of emotional distress.

A judge in East Baton Rouge ruled for Baldwin in 2005, awarding him just more than $2 million in damages, but the Louisiana Court of Appeals reversed the decision in 2007 based on several errors it found.

On remand, Baldwin withdrew his claims against Schexnayder and the court let only Baldwin's racial discrimination claim advance.

Finding that the lower court improperly granted the school summary judgment on the breach of contract claim, the First Circuit Court of Appeal reversed last week.

Evidence shows that the school violated the contract by failing to give Baldwin 30 days' notice of his firing, according to the ruling.

It is also noteworthy that the board paid Baldwin liquidated damages, which included his remaining base salary.

"However, according to the plain language of the contract, the only circumstance for which the board would be liable to Mr. Baldwin for liquidated damages is 'should the [board] terminate the agreement without just cause,'" Judge John Michael Guidry wrote for a three-member panel (brackets and emphasis in original).

"Thus, the board's payment of liquidated damages is an acknowledgement that the contract was 'terminated' without just cause," the judge added.

On remand, the trial court must determine whether Baldwin incurred damages because of the notice breach.

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