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Court To Study Case of Former Dallas Football Coach in Racial Case

November 7, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today agreed to study the case of a former Dallas high school football coach who says he lost his job because he is white.

The court said it will hear competing appeals filed by Norman Jett, longtime coach and athletic director at South Oak Cliff High School in Dallas, and by the Dallas Independent School District.

The justices will study a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that ordered a new trial for Jett’s lawsuit against the city school district and Frederick Todd, South Oak Cliff’s principal.

A federal jury had awarded Jett $850,000 in damages, reduced by a federal trial judge to about $563,000.

Jett had coached the South Oak Cliff football team since 1962 when, in the spring of 1983, he was transferred to another city high school.

Jett had been named head coach and athletic director at the school in 1970, the year the racial composition at South Oak Cliff changed from predominantly white to predominantly black.

Todd, who is black, became the school’s principal in 1975.

According to the 5th Circuit court, tensions between Todd and Jett were exasperated by events surrounding South Oak Cliff’s loss to Plano in the state high school championship game in November 1982.

Jett’s appeal said, ″Todd believed that South Oak Cliff would have to recruit young black athletes at the junior high school level and he evidently believed that a successful recruiter would have to be black.″

The appeal added that Todd ″decided to replace Jett with a black coach.″

Jett sued the school district and Todd over his transfer to a teaching position at another school.

His suit, filed under a much-used civil rights law, alleged that school officials had violated his due-process, free-speech and equal-protection rights.

The jury ruled that the city school district should be held legally liable for what it found to be violations of Jett’s rights but the appeals court ruled that the jury ″did not make sufficient findings to support municipal liability.″

The appeals court ordered a new trial for that reason.

The issue to be studied by the justices is whether public employees who claim racial discrimination must show that the bias resulted from official ″policy or custom″ before recovering damages from their employers.

The cases are Jett vs. Dallas Independent School District, 87-2084, and Dallas Independent School District vs. Jett, 88-214.

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