(CN) – A Division I basketball coach can pursue wrongful termination claims against the Louisiana university that recruited him and fired him about a year later, a state appeals court ruled.
Grambling State University recruited Rick Duckett to serve as head coach for the men’s basketball team in 2008. Previously Duckett had been earning $119,148 a year as an assistant coach at South Carolina University, and his wife earned $53,200 as State Farm claims representative.
Grambling offered Duckett a four-year contract, starting at $103,000 with an annual $3,000 raise. Duckett said he was asked to accept the offer and leave South Carolina before finalizing the contract.
Duckett signed the contract before the 2008-09 basketball season began, but the school board did not approve it. Instead, the university sent eight proposed changes to the contract in late November.
Duckett accepted six of the changes through his attorney. The Tigers finished out their first season under Duckett with a 6-23 overall record and a 4-14 mark in the South West Athletic Conference.
In September 2009, as the Tigers were in preseason training, Duckett received a termination letter university president Horace Judson served.
A month earlier, Tigers player Henry White fell ill during a team workout and died 12 days later. Duckett said he had not been at the practice because he was in surgery.
Duckett sued the university in 2010 for breach of contract and an alternate cause of action based on the theory of detrimental reliance.
A judge in Lincoln sided with Grambling in summary judgment, finding that Duckett could not prove the existence of a contract, and that the board was not bound by the promises of Judson and athletic director Troy Mathieu.
The Second District Louisiana Court of Appeals overturned last week, ruling that Duckett had made a sufficient case to survive summary judgment and go to trial.
“From review of the law of detrimental reliance under Article 1967 and in view of the clear change in position made by Duckett resulting from Judson’s alleged inducement to come to GSU, we find material fact issues which require a trial on the merits,” Judge J. Jay Caraway wrote for the Shreveport-based court.
“While GSU may not be held liable for any salary after Duckett’s termination or for liquidated damages, the reduction of Duckett’s salary upon his move to Louisiana amounts to a different damage claim,” Caraway added.