Vol. 14, Iss. 11
© 2018 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., A Wiley Company
All rights reserved
Was student-athlete with learning disability
subjected to outrageous verbal abuse by his coaches?
By Aileen Gelpi, Esq.
In spite of his learning disability, Tulane Univer-
sity student Brandon Purcell was able to become a
kicker on the football team in 2013.
Coach Doug Lichtenberger
dismissed him from the team in
When Purcell inquired, Assistant
Athletic Director Barbara Burke pur-
portedly said he had been removed
from the team because there were too
many kickers, even though he had
been outperforming the other kickers.
Tulane Athletic Director Rick Dickson refused to
intervene in the matter.
However, Purcell was allowed to train with the
team in the summer of 2015 to potentially earn a
walk-on spot for the following season. During that
time, Purcell’s teammates allegedly verbally abused
and threatened him.
Head Coach Curtis Johnson removed Purcell from
the team in August.
Purcell ﬁled a lawsuit asserting several claims
against Tulane and others. One was that the behavior
of the coaching staff was intended to inﬂict severe
Purcell alleged that Lichtenberger didn’t believe he
was disabled, required him to prove his disability, and
taunted him. He also claimed Lichtenberger’s actions
prompted teammates to become abusive toward
him. Purcell also alleged the other coaches joined in
harassing him, yelling at him, and calling him names.
The defendants ﬁled a motion to dismiss.
Purcell, et al. v. Tulane University of Louisiana,
et al., No. 16-1834 (E.D. La. 05/26/17).
Did the student’s claim sur-
vive the university’s motion to
A. Yes. The court ruled that
the coaches’ and AD’s actions
amounted to deliberate indifference
to the student’s disclosed disability.
B. Yes. The judge held that uni-
versity staff violated the student’s
rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
C. No. The court dismissed the lawsuit, holding
that student-athletes are routinely subjected to
taunts and insults by their coaches and teammates.
D. No. The court held that the coaches’ and AD’s
actions weren’t so outrageous as to amount to inten-
tional inﬂiction of emotional distress.
Correct answer: D.
The district judge explained that a claim of inten-
tional inﬂiction of emotional distress must involve
conduct so outrageous and extreme that it went
beyond all possible bounds of decency, and was
regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a
civilized community. She emphasized that liability
didn’t extend to mere insults, indignities, or threats.
The judge dismissed the claim, ruling that Purcell
had not described conduct that was so severe as to
justify a claim for intentional inﬂiction of emotional
College Athletics and the Law Board of Advisors
Elizabeth “Betsy” A. Alden, Ph.D.
Alden & Associates, Inc.
Tricia Turley Brandenburg, M.S.
Deputy Director of Athletics
Senior Woman Administrator
Timothy Neal, M.S., ATC
Sports Medicine Consultant
Concordia University Ann Arbor
Jody Mooradian, J.D.
Salve Regina University
Michael Scarano, Ed.D.
Associate Director of Athletics/
Director of Compliance
California Baptist University
John P. Sullivan, Psy.D.
Clinical Sport Psychologist,
Applied Sport Scientist
Founder/CEO, CSCS - Sport Science
Troy Tucker, M.S.
Northampton Community College
Melody A. Werner, Ed.D.
Sports Management Professor &
Title IX Coordinator
Eastern Michigan University
Mark Wilson, J.D.
Harrison Kent Advisors, LLC
Maureen Harty, M.B.A.
Associate Director, NCAA
You Make the Call
This regular feature details a re-
cent court case. Review the facts.
Think about how you would have
handled the situation. Then test
your legal knowledge by trying to
determine how the court ruled. ■