The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has filed suit on behalf of basketball coach Dominic Hardie alleging that the NCAA’s policy of permanently banning all individuals with a felony conviction from participating in NCAA-certified high school events violates Title II of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. The statute bars discrimination on account of race and other protected characteristics in certain places of public accommodation and places of entertainment.
The lawsuit, which was brought in federal district court in San Diego, contends that Hardie was denied full and equal enjoyment of places of public accommodation on the basis of race in that the NCAA’s new policy has a disparate impact on African Americans and therefore constitutes an unlawful, racially discriminatory policy. Hardie seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction that will allow him to coach his teams in an upcoming NCAA-certified high school girl’s basketball tournament in San Diego.
Hardie, a co-founder of a non-profit organization aimed at developing self-esteem in student athletes, successfully coached his elite high school teams under the NCAA’s old policy. The former policy allowed coaches to participate in NCAA certified tournaments if they had a non-violent felony conviction that had taken place more than seven years earlier.
However, the NCAA changed this policy in 2011 to permanently ban any ex-felon from coaching in NCAA sanctioned tournaments. Hardie’s application to renew his coaching certification for the 2012-2013 season was denied and he was informed that because of the NCAA’s new policy he would no longer be able to participate due to his single, non-violent drug conviction for possession with intent to distribute less than a gram of cocaine more than 11 years ago.
The Lawyers’ Committee contends that the NCAA’s new policy has the effect of banning minority coaches disproportionately because African-Americans are vastly over-represented in the criminal justice system. “The Lawyers’ Committee is committed to eliminating unjustifiable barriers to employment, housing, and full participation in public life faced by person’s with criminal histories,” said Jane Dolkart, the group’s senior counsel..
In a statement responding to the lawsuit, the NCAA stands by its policy. “Our policy has been unsuccessfully challenged in court previously. We continue to believe convicted felons should not have access to youth at events where NCAA coaches are participating, and we will vigorously defend this lawsuit,” stated Bob Williams, NCAA vice president of communications.