(Editor’ note: The following is an article that appeared in Sports Litigation Alert, which publishes every two weeks and features a searchable archive of more than 3,000 articles.)
The former athletic director at Occidental College, Jaime Hoffman, has sued her employer in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging she was the victim of:
- harassment and discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation and disability;
- intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress;
- failure to prevent, investigate or remedy discrimination, harassment or retaliation; and
- wrongful termination.
The lawsuit maintains that the defendants violated the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the primary state law that provides employees with protection from discrimination, retaliation and harassment in work environments.
The impetus for the dispute, according to Hoffman, was Hoffman’s decision to cancel a football game for safety reasons.
“I don’t believe Occidental should sponsor a football program,” said Hoffman. “And, the reason I think this is because I care about the student-athletes. I am aware of the obstacles: lack of resources, lack of a systematic admissions strategy, lack of support for the sacrifices necessary to build a healthy football roster nowadays, the demographics of football prospects, and the lack of compliance with Title IX. So, because I am aware of the obstacles and the lack of a TRUE commitment by the institution’s administration and value system, I do NOT believe it is safe for Oxy to put an undersized and undermanned team on the field.
“I recognize that my professional opinion is unpopular. I also recognize that because I was the AD at the time of long time Oxy coach Dale Widolff’s termination, and I was the AD during the rapid decline of football’s competitiveness, it may appear that I have some sort of an axe to grind with the football population. That is not the case.
“I have been called a dyke, bitch, witch, cunt and perhaps countless other names by this group of Oxy students, alums and parents. I have reason not to like these people. But, not once, have I ever sacrificed my responsibility or integrity in making decisions on their behalf.
“A lack of integrity has been displayed by Oxy’s administration, trustees and, more specifically, by Jonathan Veitch. He has allowed me to be the scapegoat for the demise of football, and more broadly, athletics.”
The plaintiff added that the college “never … seriously investigated nor condemned the behavior of those who have harassed me.
“On several occasions after canceling the football game I had contacted campus safety reporting findings of odd and unprecedented occurrences around my house: broken eggs, broken beer bottles, a dent in one of our cars, a pellet gun left on a ledge, and nails in our driveway. Despite the reports, It was at my request several months later that the college agreed to install cameras.”
“My mental health and my family’s safety has suffered. My life has changed. I had been on workers comp leave. I had exhausted my sick and vacation leave. I’m on meds indefinitely. I was returned to work by my doctors with reasonable accommodations. And then, after 14 years of serving the college, I was informed that I would not be returning to my AD role. I was informed over the phone by HR even though I resided in a college home across the street from campus. I was told my benefits (for my 5-year-old and me) would end at the end in 13 days, that my last paycheck was ‘yesterday’ and that I had 60 days to vacate my college owned house. There was no severance offered. I was assured over and over again that I am being put on ‘unpaid active status’ at the college and that they’d be filling the AD job. I was sent a link to position openings on campus and told I am welcome to apply for openings that match my qualifications”.
“I could have let 36 undersized guys, many playing out of position, most not very talented or capable of competing against a much bigger Pacific team of a 117-man roster… I suppose I could have let them play. I never had to call that meeting in August warning of safety issues. I could have let them play and maybe, just maybe, nothing would have happened. Maybe all 36 (13 total on defense) of them would have finished the game with all limbs intact.
“I suppose if I let them play, my job would not have been on the negotiating table. I suppose I wouldn’t have had to wonder where I’d be living next month. I suppose if I let them play my career and health insurance for my family wouldn’t be keeping me up at night. That would have been the easier decision. But, again, I cared deeply about Oxy student athletes.”