HAMMOND — A former Purdue Northwest baseball player can move forward with a federal racial discrimination lawsuit against his then-coach, a U.S. District Court judge ruled this week.
The suit was first filed in December 2016.
It alleges then-head coach Shane Prance made racially derogatory comments and falsely accused Jose Resendez of assaulting him during practice and later firing paint balls at his home — leading to his suspension from the team during the 2014-2015 season, according to court records.
The suit claims Prance treated Resendez differently than white players on the team because of his Mexican heritage. According to the university's website, Prance is now assistant athletic director for facilities and recreational sports at the North Central campus and assistant baseball coach.
In Thursday's order, U.S. District Court Judge Jon E. Deguilio granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the discrimination claims against Athletic Director Tom Albano and Chancellor James Dworkin, noting the plaintiff failed to show the university employees acted "either intentionally or with deliberate indifference" to the alleged unlawful discrimination.
However, the judge allowed several of Resendez's claims against Prance to move forward.
The suit alleges Prance on March 19, 2015, told Resendez, "I don't want to deal with campus police saying a Mexican with a beard is jumping the fence and causing trouble on the field, (Resendez) that was directed to you."
Resendez further alleges Prance called him, without provocation, "a lazy piece of s***" and a "p****" during practice, and a verbal altercation ensued.
The coach forced Resendez to run two hours straight during practice the next day and allegedly called Resendez's father about the argument, inaccurately claiming Resendez had attacked him and bumped his chest.
On April 14, 2015, Prance called the LaPorte County Sheriff's Office to report he heard a paint ball gun firing at his Westville home and recognized Resendez's girlfriend's Jeep outside and Resendez as the driver — which Resendez denied in court records. Police were unable to find a paint gun in his possession.
The complaint notes "one white player on the (Purdue Northwest) baseball team had multiple arrests for battery and driving while intoxicated, yet was only suspended for 10 games."
"Prance's treatment of him was part of a pattern of treating non-white players worse than their white counterparts. He alleges that white players on the team were not disciplined as severely for their misconduct and that Prance did not file false police reports against any white players. He also alleges that non-white players received less playing time," the complaint alleges.
Deguilio granted the defendants' motion to dismiss to a claim that Prance defamed him by communicating with Albano, the athletic director, about the alleged physical altercation, saying immunity can be applied here. The discussion plainly falls within the scope of employment, the judge said.
The judge agreed Resendez should be allowed to argue in court whether Prance falsely filed a police report to defame and inflict intentional emotional distress on the plaintiff.
"Thus, at least for the pleading stage, the allegations of the false police report, the absence of a basis for the accusation, and the alleged racial motivation suffice to allege extreme and outrageous conduct," the judge wrote.