United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
MICHAEL P. LOTIEF
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUISIANA SYSTEM D/B/A/ UNIVERSITY OF LOUISIANA AT LAFAYETTE, ET AL.
RULING AND ORDER
W. DeGRAVELLES UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
before the Court is the Motion to Transfer Venue filed by
Defendants Board of Supervisors for the University of
Louisiana System, E. Joseph Savoie, Jessica Clarke Leger, and
Bryan Maggard (collectively, “the defendants”).
(Doc. 7). Plaintiff Michael P. Lotief opposes the motion.
(Doc. 12). The defendants have filed a reply brief in support
of their motion. (Doc. 14). Oral argument is not necessary.
After careful consideration of the parties' arguments,
the facts alleged, and the applicable law, and for the
following reasons, the Motion to Transfer Venue (Doc. 7) is
granted and this matter is transferred to the United States
District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
following is a recitation of the facts alleged in Plaintiff
Michael Lotief's state-court petition. Lotief resides in
Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, and was head coach of the
women's softball team at the University of Louisiana at
Lafayette from 2003 until he was terminated on November 1,
2017. (Doc. 1-1 at 8-13). On September 20, 2018, he brought
suit in the 19th Judicial District Court for the Parish of
East Baton Rouge against the Board of Supervisors for the
University of Louisiana System (“Board”) doing
business as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette
(“ULL”), ULL President E. Joseph Savoie, ULL
Athletics Director Bryan Maggard, and ULL Deputy Athletics
Director Jessica Clarke Leger. (Id. at 1). ULL
itself is located in Lafayette Parish, while the Board is
domiciled in East Baton Rouge Parish. (Id.). Savoie,
Maggard, and Leger are all residents of Lafayette Parish.
Lotief's tenure as head coach, he “became aware of
the inequities and discrimination between female and male
athletics at ULL” and voiced his concerns to Leger,
Maggard, and Savoie. (Doc. 1-1 at 17). Despite raising his
concerns, “the inequities and gender based
discrimination continued.” (Id.).
Additionally, Lotief documented in writing various instances
of discrimination against female athletes and provided these
writings to Leger, Maggard, and Savoie. (Id.). The
alleged discrimination included inequities with respect to
medical care, playing facilities, office space, training, pay
for coaches and staff, and funding, among other things.
(Id. at 17-19).
ultimately terminated Lotief in November 2017 purportedly for
three incidents: “using vulgar and offensive
language” on the team bus after a game in College
Station, Texas, in April 2017, a similar incident involving
language after a game at Louisiana State University in Baton
Rouge, Louisiana, in June 2017, and allegedly
“poking” a strength coach in the weight room at
ULL in October 2017. (Doc. 1-1 at 19-20). Lotief alleges that
comparable instances involving men's athletic teams at
ULL did not result in the termination of any coaches.
(Id.). He claims that Leger
“manipulated” a former student-athlete into
filing a complaint against Lotief on August 2, 2017.
(Id. at 21-22). Leger allegedly directed the former
athlete to contact three players to corroborate her complaint
and “undermine Lotief and the student-athletes Leger
was supposed to be serving.” (Id. at 22-23).
Lotief alleges that if the allegations against him had merit,
Leger would have been required to start an investigation;
however, she failed to do so and on August 22, 2017,
recommended approval of a $21, 000 bonus for Lotief.
(Id. at 23). Maggard and Savoie also approved the
bonus and “expressed vocally their support for
Lotief” at a dinner for the team on August 21.
(Id. at 24).
October 29, 2017, the softball team signed a statement
stating that the investigation into Lotief's conduct was
“unjust, ” and that ULL administration was
“intimidating players [and] lying about the ongoing
investigation.” (Doc. 1-1 at 28). The statement
provided that the complaints of a hostile environment were
“untrue” and that “there was instead a
competitive environment holding the team to championship
standards.” (Id.). Finally, the statement
affirmed “the team's belief that Lotief was being
targeted and retaliated against for standing up for female
athletes, and indicated the team's belief that they were
being treated unequally because of their gender.”
(Id.). Additionally, when Sara
Corbello presented Savoie with statements from the
team in favor of Lotief and “evidence
exonerating” him, Savoie “immediately ordered
that Corbello be fired.” (Id.).
Maggard, and Leger ignored the “exculpatory statements,
documents, and evidence, ” while Savoie “ordered
the false, incomplete HR [investigative] report to be
released to the public.” (Doc. 1-1 at 29-30). In
October 2017, Lotief spoke with Deputy Athletics Director
Nico Yantko “about the severely disparate treatment of
female athletics as compared to men's athletics.”
(Id. at 33). In response, Yantko became
“defensive” and “attempted to intimidate
Lotief into submission by hitting Lotief in his chest with
the back of his hand, and moving in closer and closer towards
Lotief as the conversation continued.” (Id.).
ULL terminated Lotief, it published a press release stating,
“Lotief violated ULL and [University of Louisiana]
System policies by subjecting student-athletes and coworkers
to violent, vulgar language and verbal and physical assault,
creating a hostile learning and working environment.”
(Doc. 1-1 at 37). Lotief alleges that “[t]his press
release was false, defamatory, and slanderous and known to be
so by the Defendants.” (Id.). The fact that
ULL released this information to the public without including
information favorable to Lotief “is further evidence of
ULL's malicious intent.” (Id.). So too was
Savoie's decision to fire Lotief yet retain coaches of
various men's teams for what Lotief alleges are similar
incidents of alleged misconduct. (Id.).
alleges that ULL's stated reason for terminating him was
pretextual. (Doc. 1-1 at 38). Instead, he maintains that ULL
terminated him for “reporting numerous forms of gender
discrimination as well as the unequal treatment of female
athletes as compared to male athletes.” (Id.).
“After Lotief's engagement in this protected
activity [under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972]
increased, ULL began its attempt to silence and ultimately
terminate him by accumulating false and misleading evidence
to support their [sic] ultimate decision.”
(Id.). Lotief additionally alleges that ULL defamed
him by “actively propagate[ing] false, misleading, and
damaging information through various local news sources
following Lotief's termination in an attempt to
publically [sic] discredit and humiliate him.”
(Id. at 40-41). “ULL falsely accused Lotief of
being verbally, physically, and emotionally abusive to
softball players as well as employees of ULL.”
(Id. at 41). Lotief also alleges that ULL's
conduct violated his rights under the First Amendment,
Fourteenth Amendment, and the Americans with Disabilities
Act. (Id. at 43-47).
Lotief brings state-law claims for wrongful conversion of
property and breach of contract. (Doc. 1-1 at 47-49). In
support of his conversion claim, Lotief alleges that while he
was on administrative leave on October 6, 2017, he was locked
out of ULL's softball facilities without access to his
personal property. (Doc. 1-1 at 47). Lotief asserts that ULL
still possesses and refuses to return his “family
pictures, memorabilia, his notary seal, his prescription
sunglasses, his most valuable autographed photo of Mother
Theresa and Father Brennan, multiple pictures of [his]
deceased dad with family members, and family
heirlooms.” (Id.). Lotief also claims that he
spent over $120, 000 in equipment for the ULL softball team,
which has not been returned. (Id. at 47-48). Despite
attempting to recover the property, ULL has not returned all
of it, and instead “engages in multiple piecemeal
deliveries to the Lotief's [sic] storage unit[.]”
(Id. at 48). “[T]o this day, ” the
university is still in possession of “numerous pieces
of equipment, personal items, and documents which belong to
Lotief.” (Id.). ULL is also in possession of
“roughly” $20, 000 worth of softball equipment
used by Lotief for a summer camp program. (Id.).
Lotief's breach-of-contract claim arises out of a
“contract which . . . may be evidenced in writing but
is otherwise at least oral and which guaranteed a minimum
term of employment.” (Doc. 1-1 at 48). He alleges that
he had five years remaining on his employment contract after
winning a regional tournament. (Id. at 49).
ULL's decision to terminate his employment constitutes a
breach of the employment contract. (Id.).
Court notes at the outset of this discussion that venue is
proper in the Middle District of Louisiana. In federal court,
venue is proper in “a judicial district in which any
defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the
State in which the district is located.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 1391(b)(1).Here, the Board of Supervisors for the
University of Louisiana System is the managing body of ULL
and is domiciled in East Baton Rouge Parish, which is located
in the Middle District of Louisiana. As all of the individual
defendants are residents of Louisiana according to
Lotief's allegations, venue is proper in this district.
of course, does not end the Court's inquiry. The federal
venue transfer statute provides that “[f]or the
convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of
justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to
any other district where it might have been brought[.]”
28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Because all of the individual
defendants reside in Lafayette Parish, which is located in
the Western District of Louisiana, and “a substantial
part of the events or omissions giving rise” to
Lotief's suit occurred there, venue in the Western
District is also proper. Under § 1404(a), a motion to
transfer venue should be granted if “the movant
demonstrates that the transferee venue is clearly more
convenient.” In re Volkswagen of Am., Inc.,
545 F.3d 304, 315 (5th Cir. 2008) (“Volkswagen
II”). While deference is given to the
plaintiff's choice of venue, a movant need only show
“good cause” to prevail on a motion to transfer.
Id. That is, the movant must “satisfy the
statutory requirements and clearly demonstrate that a
transfer” meets the § 1404 threshold of
convenience and serves the interest of justice. Id.
Fifth Circuit, courts apply a host of public and private
interest factors established by the Supreme Court in Gulf
Oil Corporation v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501 (1947), to
determine “whether a § 1404(a) venue transfer is
for the convenience of parties and witnesses and in the
interest of justice.” Volkswagen II, 545 F.3d
at 315. The private interest factors include: “(1) the
relative ease of access to sources of proof; (2) the
availability of compulsory process to secure the attendance
of witnesses; (3) the cost of attendance for willing
witnesses; and (4) all other practical problems that make
trial of a case easy, expeditious and inexpensive.”
In re Volkswagen AG, 371 F.3d 201, 203 (5th Cir.
2004) (“Volkswagen I”). The public
interest factors are: “(1) the administrative
difficulties flowing from court congestion; (2) the local
interest in having localized interests decided at home; (3)
the familiarity of the forum with the law that will govern
the case; and (4) the avoidance of unnecessary problems of
conflict of laws [or] the ...