Crime - Sacto 911

Ex-St. Francis running coach sues for age discrimination, wants job back

John DuCray
John DuCray Jill Telfer

With his spare, sinewy body and weathered face, John DuCray looks the part of the cross-country and track coach he was at St. Francis Catholic High School for girls.

Over 37 years it came to be a role that defined him, until he was fired in February after a long struggle with the school and Diocese of Sacramento officials, he said.

DuCray sued in Sacramento federal court. His court complaint, filed on Aug. 26, claims he was targeted due to his age – 63 when he was discharged – and his outspoken support of the school’s former athletic director Kolleen “Koko” McNamee. McNamee was fired in August 2012 and replaced by Athletic Director Mark McGreevy. McNamee sued the diocese for wrongful termination and settled in 2015 for an undisclosed sum.

The reasons given for his dismissal are so thin, it’s hard to tell what really was at work here.

Jill Telfer, attorney for John DuCray

Diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery on Monday said neither McNamee’s case nor age played a role in DuCray’s dismissal. He was replaced by two men, one 30 years his junior and the other 14 years younger, DuCray said.

Shortly before his dismissal, DuCray received a letter from McGreevy accusing him of holding a practice that was in violation of rules governing high school sports, subjecting four athletes to an overly aggressive workout, and using abusive language toward athletes. DuCray denies these claims.

“It boiled down to his not doing the job right,” said Eckery. “There were complaints from students and their families and colleagues.”

DuCray’s attorney, Jill Telfer, says there is a long line of former St. Francis athletes and their parents, as well as former faculty and staff members, who support DuCray as an excellent coach and positive influence on the girls who ran under his tutelage.

“I don’t think it’s too much to say that John was a highly regarded figure at St. Francis,” Telfer said. “The reasons given for his dismissal are so thin, it’s hard to tell what really was at work here.”

DuCray led his athletes to 24 league and nine section team titles in cross-country, and 13 league and three section championships in track, according to his court complaint. In 2002, St. Francis won the Division 3 state championship in crosscountry, and DuCray was selected by The Bee as its cross c-ountry coach of the year.

“Throughout his tenure, DuCray received consistently excellent performance evaluations and commendations from parents, staff and students,” the complaint says.

In early 2015, the court complaint says, DuCray began protesting verbally and in writing to St. Francis and Diocese administrators that he was being treated unfairly because of his age.

The complaint alleges that, because of these protests, and “because DuCray witnessed the gender discrimination and retaliation against McNamee and was listed by McNamee as a witness in (her) lawsuit,” officials retaliated – “set him up to fail, ostracized him, defamed him and ultimately terminated him.” DuCray did not testify in McNamee’s lawsuit.

At the time of his dismissal, DuCray received a letter from Lincoln Snyder, superintendent and executive director of Catholic schools, and Margo Brown, president of St. Francis, listing the charges against him, including creating “a culture of fear among some student athletes,” failing to cooperate with other St. Francis personnel, engaging “in a pattern of unacceptable behavior,” and “repeated acts of insubordination.”

DuCray’s court complaint names as defendants the diocese, St. Francis, Snyder, Brown and McGreevy.

It boiled down to his not doing the job right.

Diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery

It seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages as compensation for alleged retaliation, defamation, association discrimination and age discrimination. It also asks for an injunction barring the diocese and its schools from “discriminating against older employees or those who made internal complaints of discrimination and retaliation.”

Finally, the suit asks that DuCray be given his job back.

Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189