A year after being fired as the girls basketball coach at Bowling Green (Ky.) High School, LaVonda Johnson remains out of the coaching profession and is pursuing a lawsuit against those she says discriminated against her.
A Nov. 1 deadline has been set for all pretrial discovery in the case of Johnson and her former assistant coaches Greg Johnson and Jalyn Savage – all African-Americans who were fired – against the Bowling Green Independent School District and superintendent Gary Fields.
The lawsuit originally was filed in Warren Circuit Court but was transferred to U.S. District Court in Bowling Green last October because of a law that gives federal courts jurisdiction to hear civil cases involving allegations of civil-rights violations.
Johnson was fired in August 2017, setting off a series of allegations by both parties.
Johnson, who remains a teacher at Bowling Green High, posted a 254-56 record in 10 seasons and led the Purples to four Fourth Region championships. Her 2010-11 squad finished 25-2 and posted the program’s first-ever victory in the state tournament.
A termination memorandum claimed Johnson was fired for not treating “student players with dignity and respect” and for two violations of the Professional Code of Ethics for Kentucky school personnel.
Johnson claims she was fired because of her reaction to a meeting with Bowling Green High principal William King in April 2016. Johnson said she was told by King during the meeting that he “wanted more white coaches and white players” on the team.
King denied making that statement, calling it “a bold-faced lie.”
In June 2016, Johnson made complaints regarding the meeting to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, the Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board.
The NAACP has expressed its support of Johnson. Martha Amerson, president of the Bowling Green-Warren County NAACP chapter, said she met with Fields to discuss the case and backed Johnson’s claims that she was held to different standards than other head coaches at the high school.
“The district’s lack of consistency concerning all athletic programs and the desire for increased levels of diversity is but of one way in which the Bowling Green Independent School District has demonstrated discrimination against LaVonda Johnson, Greg Johnson and Jalyn Savage,” Amerson said.
Johnson’s lawsuit also revealed she provided information to the KHSAA as part of its investigation into possible recruiting violations by the Bowling Green boys basketball program during its 2016-17 state championship season.
Johnson would not comment for this story but did say the KHSAA initiated the meeting because the organization wanted information on the hiring of her new assistant coaches for the 2016-17 season – Anthony Hickey, Houston Bunton and Chloe Elam – after the firings of Greg Johnson and Savage.
KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett said the investigation of the Bowling Green boys basketball program remains on hold because of Johnson’s federal lawsuit.
“There needs to be some movement in that case and clarity before we can resume,” Tackett said.
Calvin Head, an African-American, was named the Bowling Green girls basketball coach last August and led the Purples to a 20-13 record and a trip to the state tournament last season.