Joyce Pierce file photo

Joyce Pierce is seen at her induction into the Gwinnett Sports Hall of Fame in April 2018. Pierce has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against Gwinnett County Public Schools.

A Norcross High School special education teacher and track coach is alleging she was dismissed from her roles as junior varsity and varsity girls basketball coach after she complained about discriminatory treatment that she had experienced.

Joyce Pierce, who was Norcross’ junior varsity girls basketball coach and an assistant coach for the varsity girls basketball team, is suing Gwinnett County Public Schools in the U.S. District Court. The lawsuit was filed Aug. 20.

The lawsuit asserts that school officials did not give Pierce a reason for why she was removed from her basketball coaching positions in May 2018, and that the junior varsity team had just won a championship under her leadership.

Pierce, who is Black, alleges she was replaced with coaches who were white after she complained earlier that spring that she felt she was being treated differently from counterparts who are white. She also claimed she was blocked from transferring to another school in retaliation for her complaints.

“Plaintiff, an African-American, was, among other things, being deprived of benefits and opportunities afforded to other coaches,” the lawsuit states.

“The discriminatory treatment about which Plaintiff complained included the reduction of her coaching stipend, exclusion from communications regarding the basketball program, reduction and/or removal of the perks of her position (clothes, keys, meals), exclusion from a tournament, and termination from the varsity girls’ assistant coaching position.”

Pierce is seeking full back pay for her former basketball coaching roles, with any raises she would have received taken into account, as well as front pay to compensate her for lost future wages and benefits.

She is also seeking compensatory damages for “emotional distress, inconvenience, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life,” with the amount of the damages to be determined by a federal jury.

In response to the lawsuit, GCPS spokeswoman Sloan Roach said, “As a district, we have policies that prevent race discrimination. Our attorneys have the complaint and will review it and will respond when appropriate.”

Pierce was an assistant varsity girls basketball coach, and head junior varsity girls basketball coach, at Norcross from August 2015 until 2018. She was relieved of her duties as an assistant basketball coach in February 2018, prompting her to complain about discrimination and her dismissal as the junior varsity had coach followed more than three months later.

She filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in October 2018, and the EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue for her last month.

Pierce was a basketball standout when she attended Norcross in the late 1980s. She was named the Gwinnett County Player of the Year in 1989 and was later the first player at Georgia Tech to get a Kodak All American Honorable Mention and was the second-highest points scorer in Georgia Tech history for 22 years. She was invited to the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team basketball trials and played on USA Basketball’s Junior National Team that year.

She also played on the USA Basketball U.S. Olympic Festival South team in 1990 and played professionally for SPO Rouen in France. She is a Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame inductee.

The lawsuit states that Norcross had hired a new girls basketball head varsity coach the year before she was relieved of her duties and that the coach, who was white, hired her husband, who is also white, to be the new assistant varsity coach and that all of Pierce’s duties were gradually reassigned to him.

After she was relieved of her duties with the varsity team, Pierce went to both Norcross’ athletic director and GCPS’ equity and compliance director. The lawsuit states the athletic director directed her to speak with the school’s principal, Will Bishop.

Pierce alleges that Bishop told her “you should not have done that,” referring to her going to school system’s equity and compliance director.

The lawsuit states that her full stipend was reinstated and the junior varsity team was allowed to have a team banquet after she met with Bishop.

She then met with the district’s equity and compliance director in March 2018 and expressed concerns that she might face retaliation for her complaint, and more than two months later the head varsity coach informed her that she would no longer be the junior varsity head coach.

“Defendant’s termination of Plaintiff from the basketball program, including terminating her position as head coach with the junior varsity team, caused her to incur damages, which include lost wages and benefits, emotional distress, inconvenience, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life,” the lawsuit states.

The head varsity girls basketball coach and her husband left Norcross in the spring of 2019, according to the lawsuit.

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

(2) comments

MissDaisy

The coaching staff always works at the discretion of the varsity head coach. A new head coach can bring in the coaching staff they are comfortable working with.

Stranger

"emotional distress, inconvenience, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life" In other words - pay me something I didn't earn. Right to work state, right to be fired for being a pain.

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