Judge won’t toss lawsuit against Mount Aloysius

Couple said they were fired for taking stand against discrimination

A federal judge has rejected a request by Mount Aloysius College in Cresson to dismiss a lawsuit by two former employees who contend they were fired five years ago because they had taken a stand against racial discrimination in the hiring of the school’s basketball coach in 1992.

In a 20-page opinion last week in Johnstown, U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson stated that Larry and Suzanne Brugh had presented enough facts in their lawsuit, filed last April, to plausibly support a finding that Mount Aloysius and its president, Thomas Foley, unlawfully discriminated against them and that the firings were in retaliation for Larry Brugh’s protest and actions 25 years ago.

Larry Brugh had been part of the committee to hire a men’s basketball coach in 1992.

The committee, according to the lawsuit, had unanimously agreed to recommend Lynn Ramage, an African-American, who had college coaching experience, but, when the administration — prior to the hiring of Foley — found out Ramage was married to a Caucasian woman, the recommendation was rejected.

The college eventually refused to renew the contract of its athletic director and women’s basketball coach, Joseph DeAntonio, who now lives in Altoona. DeAntonio also had opposed the school’s discrimination against Ramage.

DeAntonio and Ramage filed federal lawsuits against the college. They were settled out of court in the late 1990s.

Brugh was to be a witness for both DeAntonio and Ramage if the cases went before a jury, his lawsuit contended.

Despite his participation in the lawsuits, he was not let go by the college, and he continued to serve as the school’s assistant dean of students and director of career services.

In 2011, however, the lawsuit reported, a senior vice president of Mount Aloysius told Brugh she had reviewed a report of his involvement in those civil rights lawsuits and told him she had discussed the matter with Foley.

Brugh was to have a formal human resources review and, according to the lawsuit, the vice president told him, “It’s probably best not to mention the racial incident of the past in the formal human resources review, so people don’t think you can’t let go of the past.”

After the review, Brugh maintained the positions as dean and director of career counseling, but two months later was removed as dean and his office was relocated.

Things went downhill after that, and Larry Brugh was let go in December 2012.

His wife, who also worked at the college and at that time was a clock operator for basketball games, was also let go because she was his wife, the lawsuit contends.

In July, Mount Aloysius asked Gibson to dismiss the Brughs’ lawsuit, pointing out the firings in 2012 were too far removed from the incidents that occurred in 1992 and stressing that Brugh had already resolved those discrimination issues in complaints he had filed throughout the years.

Gibson pointed out that Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain about discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

The college cited the fact that the Brughs retained an attorney after he was demoted in 2012 as one reason for his firing, which, Gibson said, was direct evidence of discrimination.

The judge cited alleged critical comments made to Larry Brugh by administrators and Foley that referred to Brugh’s participation in the anti-discrimination lawsuits as indirect evidence that supported his lawsuit.

None of the college’s reasons for firing Larry and Suzanne Brugh had to do with their work performances, Gibson stated.

The college also asked the judge to strike several paragraphs in the lawsuit that referred to the 1992 refusal to hire Ramage.

Those paragraphs outlined the events and stated Ramage, who presently is a teacher in Arizona, was rejected “solely because of the coach’s race. …”

“This court agrees with (the Brughs) that these paragraphs should not be stricken,” Gibson stated.

The judge went on to explain that the paragraphs described the conduct “which allegedly motivated Mount Aloysius to retaliate against the plaintiffs in 2011 and 2012.”

“While potentially damaging to (the college’s) reputation, the allegations in these paragraphs are not redundant, immaterial, impertinent or scandalous. Therefore, the motion to strike will be denied,” Gibson wrote.

The next step in the case is for Mount Aloysius to file a reply to the lawsuit, and according to a statement released Monday by Jack Coyle, director of communications, “The college looks forward to be able to bring out the true facts in this case, to show the allegations of Mr. Brugh are both false and frivolous, and the college at all times complied with the law.

“A motion to dismiss must assume all facts to be true. No proof has been presented at this point, just allegations,” the statement continued. “And now, since the motion has been denied, the college will have the opportunity to present its defense and show the facts alleged by Brugh are totally untrue and without merit.”

Attorney James Carroll Jr. of Pittsburgh, representing the Brughs, said his side was pleased with the judge’s ruling, but noted, “It’s what we expected.”

Carroll said the initial lawsuit spelled out very specifically the Brughs’ case, and he said Monday it will be interesting to see how Mount Aloysius addresses the many facts that were presented.

Last week, a court-appointed mediator, attorney Kenneth J. Benson of Pittsburgh, reported that attempts to settle the lawsuit have failed. On Nov. 20, the college and the Brughs participated in the federal court’s alternative dispute resolution program.

Benson reported that case “has not resolved.”

“We were far apart,” Carroll said with respect to any resolution of the dispute. “If they want this to go away, they know how to make it go away.”

He concluded by saying Larry Brugh worked for Mount Aloysius for 27 years and Suzanne Brugh also spent many years as an employee.

“They were badly hurt by this,” Carroll said. “They are wonderful people. They loved this college.”