A former Mizzou track and field assistant coach has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against head coach Brett Halter, associate athletic director for compliance Mitzi Clayton and the University of Missouri Board of Curators.
Carjay Lyles — a black man who was a former men’s sprints, hurdles and relays coach for the Tigers — experienced multiple instances of discrimination during the approximately four years he worked at MU, starting in 2013, according to the suit, which was filed Tuesday in Boone County Circuit Court.
Lyles’ suit claims other black staff members and athletes also experienced discrimination under Halter, who has been with Mizzou for more than two decades and took over as head coach in August 2010. Halter and Clayton are white.
A statement from MU declared that the university "does not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment and actively seeks to build an inclusive culture in which all differences among us — whether they be racial, intellectual, physical or based on gender, religion, sexual preference, age, ability or geographic origin — are valued.
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"It is our strong belief as a university that the diversity of our students, faculty and staff makes us stronger and contributes to the success of our entire community," the statement continued. "We deny that there was any racial discrimination or retaliation, and we will respond to Mr. Lyles’ claims in court."
The suit claims that Halter would refer to black athletes and staff members as "you people." According to the lawsuit, in August 2014, then-director of operations Sirena Williams, who is black, resigned and told staff members in an email that she wanted to “work in a happy, and healthy, work environment” and that “Halter had treated her different from the other coaches on staff due to her race.” Lyles’ lawsuit claims that he was the only black employee on the coaching staff from the end of 2014 until August 2016.
Halter once suggested that Lyles lay seeds at Halter’s house, according to the lawsuit, and when Lyles declined, Halter responded, “I live at MKT and KT Trail and if I have one more K, you sure won’t be coming because three Ks in a row, there won’t be any of you coming.”
That happened in the fall of 2015, according to the suit, and the suit claims that around this time, Halter and Clayton warned people to stay away from Lyles. In a February 2016 meeting, soon after Lyles expressed concerns to Halter about using just one bus for a track meet, Halter cut Lyles off in a meeting, “threw papers on the table toward him, kicked a trash can and slammed doors while storming out of the meeting,” according to the lawsuit. This caused Lyles to report racial discrimination to human resources.
Lyles — who came to Mizzou from San Diego State — claims in his lawsuit that he began seeing a team psychiatrist after this incident and that Clayton, a former MU athlete who has been in Mizzou's compliance office for 20 years, “immediately told the psychiatrist to stop seeing (Lyles).” The lawsuit also claims that Disa Nichols, a friend of Hatler’s, pushed Missouri athletes to make allegations against Lyles.
According to the lawsuit, former athletic director Mack Rhoades became involved in April 2016. That’s when an athlete emailed Rhoades, according to the suit, to notify the athletic director that Halter attempted to discredit Lyles in front of the team. More athletes spoke to Rhoades on Lyles’ behalf, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit claims that Rhoades stated in a meeting with the track staff that Lyles “was being treated unfairly by the coaching staff.” The suit claims that Lyles' job responsibilities were subsequently cut.
In August 2016, Lyles was the only track coach to not receive a title promotion, pay raise or contract extension, according to the lawsuit. He was also no longer in charge of academic supervision and certain parts of international recruiting.
Halter, according to the suit, frequently said Lyles was “siloing” himself by reporting the alleged racial discrimination. He resigned from MU in July 2017 and interviewed for a job at North Carolina. While Lyles was interviewing for the UNC job, Nikki Moore — a senior associate athletic director at North Carolina and one of Halter’s former Mizzou runners — told Lyles that the Tar Heels pride themselves “on not siloing ourselves here, being team players, and not overstepping a head coach and reporting them,” according to the lawsuit.
Lyles’ legal representation, Kansas City-based Cornerstone Law Firm, declined to comment further on the matter to The Star.
Lyles now works at Akron as a hurdles, jumps and relays coach.