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Former Basalt coach sues district

Naomi Havlen
Former Basalt High School girls basketball coach Debbie Alcorta coaches a game in 2002. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.
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A woman fired last August from her job as the head coach of the Basalt High School girls basketball team claims she was terminated because she is a woman.Debbie Alcorta claims the Roaring Fork School District violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it decided not to renew her contract last summer. She filed a lawsuit in Pitkin County District Court on Tuesday seeking a jury trial and damages for loss of income.Alcorta was fired on Aug. 8, 2003, after working for the school district for four years. She spent two years as head coach of the Lady Longhorns after being the team’s assistant coach. Under her watch the team went to the Class 3A state tournament twice, finishing fifth and then fourth in the state.Her attorney says the Basalt High School principal and athletic director held her to different standards than they did the male coach of the school’s boys basketball team.

“Basically, they demanded that the girls act like nice little girls and not act like boys on the court,” said Glenwood Springs-based civil rights attorney Sandy Karp. “Debbie found that oppressive, and I think she was right.”Karp, who said he would ask Alcorta not to comment on the lawsuit, said Principal Jim Waddick and athletic director Michael Green made demands of his client regarding her own conduct on the court.”Waddick said she was too enthusiastic – that she should sit on the bench and not get up, and that she couldn’t coach from the sidelines,” Karp said. “He said that the girls who played basketball were bullies, and he complained when one of the athletes on the team got a technical foul.”When Alcorta complained to her bosses about those terms, Karp said, she received a letter in the mail saying that her contract with the school district would not be renewed.Alcorta’s termination came a month after she was charged with driving under the influence at a state patrol checkpoint in El Jebel. At the time, Waddick told The Aspen Times he could not discuss the reason for Alcorta’s dismissal. Instead, he said, “All I can say is it was an accumulation of concerns.”

But Waddick did tell the newspaper that a DUI does not always warrant the dismissal of a staff member.”A lot of these decisions are made on personnel issues that are based on information the public will never know,” he said.Karp said that if Alcorta’s DUI arrest was the reason she was terminated, the district should have waited until the case was resolved in the court system.”We also know of a number of men charged and convicted of driving under the influence or driving while ability impaired who were never fired,” Karp said. He also said he and Alcorta tried to settle the matter with the school district informally but the district declined to participate.Waddick and Green could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening. Alcorta was replaced by Terry Kappeli, who had been the junior varsity boys coach for the Basalt Longhorns the previous season.

Alcorta’s lawsuit states that she was replaced “by a less qualified male employee as coach of the girls basketball team.”The suit says the Roaring Fork School District violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by subjecting her to “dissimilar and discriminatory working conditions and terms, refusing to promote [Alcorta] and by terminating [Alcorta.]” Title VII of the act specifies that it is unlawful for an employer to discharge anyone on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex or national origin.Karp said a discrimination charge was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which attempts to find a resolution to a charge within 180 days. Because the commission was backlogged with other charges, it gave Karp and Alcorta the go-ahead to file a lawsuit.Alcorta is asking for a jury trial and to be awarded damages for the money she would have made if she wasn’t terminated. The damages would be determined by a judge. She is also asking for attorney fees and costs.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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