The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held for the first time Tuesday that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 may be violated where a white man is fired for associating with a person of another race -- in this case his black wife.
Reinstating the action brought by Craig Holcomb, a former Iona College assistant basketball coach, the circuit said it disagreed with other courts that have held that such a claim cannot stand because the plaintiff is not alleging discrimination motivated, in the words of Title VII, "because of such individual's race."
"We reject this restrictive reading of Title VII," Judge Guido Calabresi said for the court in Holcomb v. Iona College, 06-3815-cv. "The reason is simple: where an employee is subjected to adverse action because an employer disapproves of interracial association, the employee suffers discrimination because of the employee's own race."
Judges John M. Walker Jr. and Robert D. Sack joined the ruling.
Holcomb was an assistant to head coach Jeff Ruland when the Iona College Gaels won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in 1998, 2000 and 2001. He was also an assistant when the team's fortunes began to sour and school officials started contemplating a shakeup.
In addition to Holcomb, Ruland had two other assistants, Tony Chiles, a black man, and Rob O'Driscoll, a white man. In May 2004, Holcomb was asked to resign. He refused, and was then fired. Chiles, faced with the same decision, chose to resign. The college elected to keep O'Driscoll.
Ruland was retained, in part, because the college was on the hook for his $300,000 salary. He was fired in 2007 after a 2-28 season.
Like Ruland, who is also white, Holcomb was married to a black woman. He claimed that Richard Petriccione, a vice president at the college, made a number of racist comments about black players on the team and used a racial epithet to describe Holcomb's fiancee -- an accusation Petriccione dismissed as "ridiculous."