A former Rice Memorial High School teacher and soccer coach argued before the Vermont Supreme Court on Wednesday that his 2014 termination was due to racial discrimination.
St. Ambroise Azagoh-Kouadio, a black Ivory Coast native, appealed a lower court judge’s decision to dismiss a wrongful termination lawsuit he brought against the Catholic school where he worked for 25 years.
Azagoh-Kouadio, known as “Azzie,” was a French teacher and girls soccer coach. The South Burlington school says it had good reason to fire Azagoh-Kouadio in 2014, weeks before his contract was set to expire.
A parent complained that he told a student that he “sometimes wants to slap her,” and Azagoh-Kouadio allegedly told another student to “Go kill yourself,” in front of classmates, according to court documents. Azagoh-Kouadio acknowledged making the remarks, but said they had been taken out of context, lawyers for the school argued in court documents.
After those complaints, the school fired Azagoh-Kouadio with a few weeks to go in the academic year, and told him it would not renew his contract.
St. Ambroise Azagoh-Kouadio, holding his grandchild, speaks outside the Vermont Supreme Court chambers.
Azagoh-Kouadio represented himself in front of the state Supreme Court, which generally overturns lower court rulings only when justices find that judges erred in interpreting the law.
But Azagoh-Kouadio offered little in the way of legal rationale for justices to overturn the lower court’s decision. Instead, he spent his time pleading his initial case — that the school had set out to ruin him.
He said school administrators had been “intentionally malicious” and “slandered my name in the media.”
“Being the only black man working there, I was treated differently,” he told justices. “They knowingly … destroyed my life.”
Justices usually pepper attorneys with questions, but didn’t ask Azagoh-Kouadio anything.
Rice’s attorney, Adrienne Shea, argued that the school demonstrated it had “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons,” to get rid of Azagoh-Kouadio.
In an interview after the hearing, Azagoh-Kouadio, who brought several family members to the hearing, said he has been unable to find a new job. He launched his legal appeal, he said, to restore his reputation.