by Russ Bynum
Associated Press Writer
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP)—Savannah State University’s ex-football coach has sued the school in federal court, saying the historically Black college forced him to resign because he’s White and engaged to marry a Black woman.
Robby Wells’ lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, says Savannah State administrators discriminated against him because of his race when they told him to resign or be fired in January—a month after Wells had signed a one-year contract extension.
ROBBY WELLS, CLAUD FLYTHE
“Because of his race and because of the race of his fiancée, they believed that he would have difficulty connecting with their alumni and the community” in Savannah, James E. Rollins, Wells’ attorney, said May 28.
Wells became Savannah State’s first White football coach when he was hired in 2007. He led the Tigers for two seasons, with records of 5-7 in 2008 and 2-8 in 2009.
But the coach resigned suddenly on Jan. 28, saying he was leaving Savannah State for “personal reasons” and that he had to “think about my family and my health.”
Wells’ civil suit, filed May 25, paints a drastically different picture. It says Savannah State administrators told him to resign or be fired barely a week after a meeting in which they brought up Wells’ race and frowned upon him being in an interracial relationship.
Wells’ fiancée, Nicole Miller, is Black.
According to the lawsuit, Claud Flythe, Savannah State’s vice president of administration, told Wells at a Jan. 19 meeting that “things were not working out due to his race, specifically stating that Coach Wells would never have the support of the SSU alumni nor be able to reach those individuals because he is White.”
At that same meeting, the suit says, Flythe told Wells he “would never have the support of the citizens of Savannah, because he is White and his fiancée is Black.”
Flythe and Marilynn Stacey-Suggs, the school’s interim athletics director, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Friday from The Associated Press.
Savannah State spokeswoman Loretta Heyward said the university had no immediate comment.
Both Flythe and Suggs, according to the suit, criticized Wells in their Jan. 19 meeting for making his fiancée a visible part of his tenure at Savannah State.
Wells says both officials told him they were upset that he used Miller to host a local TV program featuring Wells, which the coach funded out-of-pocket to drum up support for Savannah State football, and that his fiancée traveled with him to road games and had ridden beside him on a float during the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Wells’ lawyers are seeking unspecified damages, attorneys’ fees and lost wages and benefits. As coach, Wells earned about $90,000 a year at Savannah State.
The lawsuit also names the state Board of Regents, which governs Georgia’s public universities, as a defendant.