Court Case: Wartluft v. Feather River Community College

Case Adopted 3/07

Case Update (10/12):
On October 19, 2010, the State Personnel Board officially dismissed the whistleblower complaints. Feather River Community College filed a motion to dismiss the federal case and the plaintiff and lawyer filed an appeal.

It is now expected that Wartluft will win the appeal. In mid-January 2012, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal issued an opinion in Mize-Kurzman v. Marin Community College District that says whether or not a whistle blower is acting for public, private or personal reasons is irrelevant. This means the federal cases that the SPB cited to dismiss the Feather River case do not apply.

Case History

Laurel Wartluft, former Head Coach and Faculty Member at Feather River Community College, sued the college for sex discrimination and retaliation for complaining of sex discrimination in violation of the California Fair Housing and Employment Act, and failure to pay agreed compensation in violation of California Labor Codes.

Wartluft began her employment at Feather River Community College in August 2004 as head coach of the women’s basketball team and faculty member. This was a one year emergency hire non tenure track faculty position with the assurance that she would be hired on a long term tenure track job beginning in 2005. She left her other coaching position because of the promise that it would turn into a long term job at FRC.

A hiring committee had been set up by FRC to fill the job and concerns were allegedly raised that the women’s basketball coach job had been a part time position while the men’s basketball coach was a full time position. The Athletic Director, Thein, advocated that it be a full time position, and Wartluft claims that the FRC president eventually agreed that it would be filled as such. The full time tenure track position was posted in the spring of 2005 and Wartluft, now the incumbent women’s basketball coach, applied for the position. Wartluft voiced concerns and reported to her superiors that FRC discriminated against women in the way it funded, selected, hired, and compensated coaches for women’s athletics. Wartluft was allegedly ranked the number two choice by the hiring committee. The number one choice had no previous collegiate coaching experience, while Wartluft had coached at several colleges. According to Wartluft, one committee member, who was also the colleges EEO coordinator, made comments about Wartluft being a “closet lesbian.”

On June 28, 2005, Thein was authorized to make Wartluft an offer for full-time tenure track faculty position. Thein made the offer and Wartluft accepted, withdrawing her candidacy for finalist consideration at another college. On July 14, 2005, the FRC president told allegedly told Thein she was considering not funding women’s basketball or making it into a part time position and that Wartluft “wouldn’t fit in …because she was a lesbian”. Wartluft was teaching four courses for the fall semester of 2005. On August 24, 2005 Thein learned that the FRC president intended to change L.W. ’s employment terms to a temporary part time position with no job security. Wartluft had been working for two months as a full time employee and had not received pay. Through out September and October, Wartluft inquired when she would finally receive the written contract and receive her full time pay. After her last inquiry on October 31, 2005 she received in response from HR a memo stating that she had been removed from her teaching assignments. The following week she met with the HR Director for what she though would be a review of her contract, only to be given a letter reassigning her coaching responsibilities and effectively terminating her. She asserts that she never received the salary owed to her and was replaced with a less qualified male employee.

In November 2006, Wartluft filed suit against Feather River Community College in state court.

In the spring of 2008, the lawyers submitted closing and reply briefs to the California State Personnel Board from the Nov. 2007 trial. The judge in the State Personnel Board hearings was expected to submit a decision to the California State Personnel Board by March 2009.  The judge in the State Personnel Board hearings submitted a decision to the California State Personnel Board in August 2009, ruling in favor of all three plaintiffs; including reinstatement, back pay, and damages. The State Personnel Board rejected the judges’ decision, however, and the judge will have to present an oral argument to the board by early November 2009.

Key Case Issues

Retaliation for complaining of sex discrimination in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1976.