Suit: Ramage denied coaching job due to racial discrimination
Twenty-five years ago, Lynn Ramage, an Air Force veteran and former college athlete, was close to being named the head coach of the Mount Aloysius College men’s basketball team, but his desire to move up in the coaching world was derailed, at least temporarily, when Mount administrators learned that the African-American man was married to a Caucasian woman, according to a lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court in Johnstown.
Ramage was never offered the job, and the decision allegedly cost a longtime Mount Aloysius employee and his wife their jobs at the college.
Larry Brugh of Johnstown was hired by Mount Aloysius in 1985 and spent 27 years as assistant dean of students and director of career services. His wife, Suzanne, was assistant director of residence life.
In a lawsuit filed by the couple, Brugh claims his opposition to the racially based decision denying Ramage the coaching position, and his willingness to testify in subsequent lawsuits brought by Ramage and the leader of the college’s search committee, Joe DeAntonio of Altoona, who was eventually terminated by the college, led to retaliation by a new administration under college President Thomas Foley.
Took anti-race stanceBrugh’s support for Ramage and DeAntonio was constantly mentioned throughout the years.
In 2011, Brugh began keeping a record of the repetitive criticism against him.
On six occasions since, he said negative comments were made about his anti-racist stance and the fact that he had filed discrimination allegations against the college in the past.
For instance, on Aug. 23, 2012, the college vice president of academic affairs allegedly stated Brugh would not let go of a 10-year-old problem, “in reference to Mr. Brugh’s involvement in claims of racial discrimination and retaliation at the college,” the lawsuit stated.
He charged that in August of that year, his desk was moved to a new location — in a different building than his administrative assistant.
When Brugh engaged attorney James W. Carroll of Pittsburgh, after being informed he no longer held the title of dean of student affairs, Foley allegedly criticized him.
When a letter was sent to the chairperson of the College’s Board of Trustees stating Brugh had been the victim of employment discrimination and retaliation, the college terminated Brugh.
His wife, Suzanne, who served as game clock operator for the men’s and women’s basketball programs, was also terminated by the college in retaliation, the lawsuit charges.
Brugh and his wife are employed by a different educational institution now, but in the lawsuit they are asking that Mount Aloysius reinstate them to their former positions and that the college pay compensation, benefits and punitive damages.
EEOC urged suit
Brugh was given permission to sue Mount Aloysius by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in retaliation for having engaged in protected conduct. His wife was given the right to sue because it is charged she was terminated from the college in retaliation for her association with her husband.
The attorney for the Brughs said the couple’s dismissal had nothing to do with Larry’s job performance.
In discussing the alleged racial incident, Carroll said, “Larry was not just a good employee, but an excellent employee (of Mount Aloysius).”
In talking about the concern over the interracial marriage issue, Carroll said: “It’s hard to believe. This wasn’t 1940 or 1950. Most people (in the ’90s) believed that doesn’t go on anymore.”
The lawsuit names Foley and the college as defendants.
Foley referred any questions about the lawsuit to college spokesman Jack Coyle.
That led to a statement from the college’s in-house legal counsel, David Andrews, who responded, “The position of Mount Aloysius is: This lawsuit is totally without merit, and the college intends to vigorously defend this matter.”
‘You can’t hire him’
Lynn Ramage, who now teaches school and coaches basketball in Goodyear, Ariz., said in a recent interview he didn’t realize that he had been the victim of racial discrimination until about three years after he was denied the job at Mount Aloysius.
A search committee of 12 employees from the college had been appointed to accept applications and interview the prospects.
That committee was led by DeAntonio, then the school’s women’s basketball coach.
DeAntonio was a natural to lead the committee, having compiled a sterling record as the woman’s coach and serving as the athletic director.
As a coach, DeAntonio compiled a record of 235 wins and 74 losses, and his teams were among the top 20 junior college teams in the nation for 10 consecutive years.
In an interview earlier this week, DeAntonio recalled the list of candidates for the men’s job was narrowed to three, and interviews with the finalists were conducted.
The committee unanimously recommended Ramage, then an assistant coach at Morgan State University.
Larry and Suzanne Brugh were members of the committee.
As the committee members were wrapping up their duties, DeAntonio and Brugh met with the Dean of Student Affairs, Judith Newton.
Newton, according to DeAntonio, said: “You can’t hire him. It wouldn’t go over with the board of trustees and the public.”
He said the dean was referring to the fact that Ramage was African-American, and his wife, Tammi, was white.
“I don’t want any part of this,” DeAntonio replied, referring to the racial discrimination.
When DeAntonio asked how he was to tell the committee, he said the dean replied: “That’s your problem. Figure it out.”
Brugh also objected, and both were told that the subject of their discussion was “not to leave the room.”
Ramage said DeAntonio initially did not relate what went on behind closed doors, only that he was informed by DeAntonio that the committee had decided to reopen the position.
Ramage said that his wife sensed what was going to happen when she met the dean, but at that point he said he didn’t have a clue what was going on.
DeAntonio eventually lost the job as the athletic director, and in 1996 his contract to coach the women’s team was not renewed.
Ramage said he was later informed by DeAntonio that he had been rejected because of his race.
Federal court records show that both DeAntonio and Ramage filed civil lawsuits against Mount Aloysius for violations of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Both defendants received out-of-court settlements after filing their lawsuits in 1997, DeAntonio said.
A key development in the cases came during pretrial depositions when the dean was questioned about the incident, according to Ramage’s Pittsburgh attorney, Colleen Ramage Johnston (no relation).
She admitted Ramage did not get the job because he was black, said Johnston.
It was such a pertinent moment that Johnston remembers that it was near the end of a long day, and it was dark and rainy outside.
The Ramage case was close to trial, but after that admission, the attorneys met with then-U.S. District Judge D. Brooks Smith, and a settlement was approved.
Johnston described Ramage as a “likeable individual, a man with a great personality and highly intelligent.”
At the time, the couple had a young daughter.
DeAntonio went on to coach women’s teams at Manhattan College and Robert Morris University.
Ramage went on to head coaching positions at Morgan State and East Stroudsburg University.
He and his wife eventually divorced, but he said it was not due to the Mount Aloysius incident.
His wife is now deceased, and he said at age 60 he is happy with his job in Arizona.
He doesn’t think what happened at Mount Aloysius hurt his coaching career.
Ramage then added: “Am I bitter? Here’s the thing: You can’t go around being bitter because it is in the past.”