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.

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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.