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Ghioroaie-Panait v. Rolle

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

January 10, 2020

HENRY ROLLE, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Adrian Ghioroaie-Panait (“Ghioroaie”) filed this action against (1) Auburn University, [1] his former employer, asserting discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; (2) Ralph Spry, the head coach of the Auburn University Track and Field Program (“track team”), asserting a negligent training and supervision claim under Alabama law; and (3) Henry Rolle, an assistant coach of the track team, asserting assault and battery claims under Alabama law. This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Auburn University's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 62) and Defendant Ralph Spry's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 63). For the reasons stated below, the motions are due to be granted.


         Ralph Spry, who is a black American, is the head coach of the track team and has been employed by Auburn since the late 1990s. In December 2013, Auburn hired Ghioroaie, a white Romanian, as an assistant coach of the track team. Ghioroaie served as the horizontal jump coach and coached some multi-events. During his employment at Auburn, Ghioroaie was one of five assistant coaches for the track team. The other assistant coaches were Scott Richardson (white, American); Mark Carroll (white, Irish); Knut Hjeltnes (white, Norwegian); and Henry Rolle (black, Bahamian). Spry reported to Bernard Hill, a Senior Associate Athletics Director and sports administrator to the track team, who reported to then-Athletic Director Jay Jacobs.

         Rolle, who was hired by Auburn in 2001, was the assistant head coach of the track team. Though Rolle was occasionally in charge in Spry's absence, the assistant coaches reported directly to Spry, and Rolle did not otherwise have any supervisory authority.

         The assistant coaches for the track team sign one-year contracts, which may be renewed on a continuing one-year basis at Spry's discretion. Ghioroaie's employment contract was renewed in 2014 and 2015, but Spry decided not to renew Ghioroaie's contract in 2016.

         I. Ghioroaie's Employment with Auburn

         According to Auburn, during Ghioroaie's time as an assistant coach, he (1) demonstrated an inability to get along with the rest of the coaching staff, his student-athletes, professional athletes, high school and/or club coaches, and SEC officials, (2) was insubordinate to Spry, and (3) committed multiple NCAA violations. Ghioroaie disputes Auburn's characterization—not necessarily the underlying facts—of many of the events that took place during his employment.

         Ghioroaie's first verbal disagreement with Rolle occurred in March or April 2014 when he and Rolle had a disagreement regarding the team's travel to Atlanta for a track meet. According to Ghioroaie, Rolle became angry in a staff meeting after the competition and stood over Ghioroaie, making comments like “[w]here I come from, we have ways of dealing with someone like you.” Ghioroaie did not report this incident to Human Resources.

         A few months later in 2014, Ghioroaie's contract was extended from August 1, 2014, until July 31, 2015.[2]

         Ghioroaie was cited for an NCAA violation on April 23, 2015, for improperly texting a recruit. He served a two-week recruiting penalty for the violation.

         On May 16, 2015, Ghioroaie was involved in a heated argument with an SEC official at the outdoor championships. After receiving what he deemed a bad call from the official, Ghioroaie yelled at the official at the event site and followed the official into the hospitality area, continuing to yell at the official. Though Ghioroaie was not formally reprimanded by Spry after this incident, Spry verbally discussed the incident with Ghioroaie.

         Less than a week later on May 22, 2015, Ghioroaie got into an argument with Donald Thomas, a professional athlete who had permission to use Auburn's track facilities for training. According to Ghioroaie, Thomas disrespected him and disregarded his position and told Ghioroaie that he was not going to “recommend[] Auburn to any jumpers that ask any recommendations to come here since you have been coaching at Auburn.” (Doc. 62-2 at 260).

         On August 10, 2015, Ghoiroaie's contract was again extended from August 1, 2015, until July 31, 2016.

         On October 1, 2015, Spry held a staff meeting about recruiting and the allotment of scholarships to recruits. During the meeting, Ghioroaie and Richardson were involved in a heated argument regarding a recruit. According to Ghioroaie, Rolle then started a verbal argument with Ghioroaie that turned physical. Richardson reported this incident as follows:

Coach Adrian Ghioroaie, in attempt to make a case for his recruit, began arguing for a full scholarship and Coach Spry let Adrian know that his recruit didn't meet the criteria for a full scholarship and suggested that my recruit was just as good and mentioned that I was not asking for a full scholarship. Adrian then began to lash out, first at me. I responded to Adrian and then he redirected his verbal assault to other members of the staff, criticizing the collective efforts of the staff in terms of work effort, coaching and recruiting. Though there was no yelling up to this point, Adrian's tone was very aggressive. This lasted maybe 5 minutes. He then began to strongly criticize Henry Rolle. Adrian very aggressively went on to verbally attack[] Henry's coaching, recruiting, and character. This lasted for about another 10 minutes.

(Doc. 71-4).[3] Rolle reacted by grabbing Ghioroaie by the neck, which forced the other coaches to restrain Rolle. Rolle then grabbed a tiger statue, lifting and waving it as if he was going to strike Ghioroaie, and again, the other coaches had to restrain Rolle.

         Ghioroaie reported this incident to Bernard Hill, a Senior Associate Athletics Director. Hill subsequently met with and requested written statements from each of the witnesses present during the October 1 meeting. As a result of this incident, Rolle was placed on administrative leave and suspended for two weeks. In addition, he was denied the opportunity to receive a bonus at the end of the year, he was required to complete 25 hours of community service and a six-month anger management course, and he was not allowed to return to work until Ghioroaie reported that he felt comfortable with him doing so.

         On October 8, 2015, Ghioroaie stopped by Spry's office to comment on Rolle's discipline. Spry claims that he tried to question Ghioroaie about his concerns with Rolle, and Ghioroaie ignored him and walked away. Spry further claims that he demanded that Ghioroaie return to his office and that Ghioroaie refused to respond and left the facility. Ghioroaie, however, claims that he never heard Spry's requests and, therefore, was not insubordinate.

         After this incident, Ghioroaie was involved in a string of additional verbal confrontations over the next several months.

         On October 30, 2015, Ghioroaie and Rolle were involved in a verbal confrontation after Rolle observed Ghioroaie and a group of recruits talking to a professional athlete who was training at the facility. That kind of communication could be an NCAA violation.

         On November 3, 2015, Ghioroaie was involved in a disagreement with Spry regarding Spry's refusal to award one of Ghioroaie's recruits additional scholarship money and his general allocation of scholarships.

         In December 2015, one of Ghioroaie's student-athletes expressed dissatisfaction about Ghioroaie to her high school club coach. Ghioroaie talked to the club coach. The club coach sent a text message to Spry about a “disturbing call” in which Ghioroaie “pretty much call[ed] [him] a liar.” (Doc. 62-6 at 147). The club coach informed Spry that “in trying to talk to [Ghioroaie] I have decided that I would never send a jumper or a field event person his way.” (Doc. 62-6 at 148). “I'm sorry I had to send this text but the man is crazy.” (Doc. 62-6 at 148).

         On February 23, 2016, Ghioroaie and Rolle were involved in another confrontation, which involved a dispute about who could use an area on the track. Ghioroaie wrote a long, detailed email to human resources about the dispute.

         On March 1, 2016, a student-athlete coached by Ghioroaie was transferred to a different coach after she became upset during practice.

         On May 1, 2016, Spry and David Mines, a Senior Associate Athletics Director, met with Ghioroaie to inform him that his contract was not being renewed. At that meeting, Ghioroaie raised concerns that he was being discriminated against and also asked to say goodbye to the student-athletes on the ...

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