Softball coach sues university in Title IX dispute

Rider softball coach Tricia Carroll, whose contract will not be renewed following the 2015-16 season,  is suing the university on the grounds that it violates Title IX.
Rider softball coach Tricia Carroll, whose contract will not be renewed following the 2015-16 season, is suing the university on the grounds that it violates Title IX.

By Thomas Regan

Rider’s head softball coach, Tricia Carroll, has filed a civil lawsuit against the university claiming that she “has been subjected to unlawful discrimination and retaliation, in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.”

Carroll, entering her 22nd season as head coach, was told by Athletic Director Don Harnum last year that her contract would not be renewed after Aug. 31, 2016. This followed several complaints by Carroll, beginning in 2011, in which she claimed the university discriminated against women’s varsity teams like hers.

The first decade of Carroll’s tenure included three conference softball championships and appearances in two additional finals.

However, after that well-decorated start to her career, Carroll has a record of just 150-380-2 over the past 11 years (games can end in a tie if the field does not have lights and goes extra innings).

Carroll blames lack of scholarship funding and other support, which she says reflects the university’s preferential treatment toward male teams.

The university has not publicly responded to the specifics of her charges. Harnum said, “We are aware of the lawsuit and it is our policy not to comment on pending litigation.

“What I can say is that we are confident in our position. It speaks to Athletics’ mission statement and the work we do to ensure a positive and competitive athletic experience for our student-athletes and a vibrant campus environment for all of our students.  We take that responsibility seriously.  In fact, it drives all that we do in support of both the athletic and academic success of our student-athletes.”

Carroll and her lawyers were unavailable for comment.

In addition to the lawsuit, which was filed on June 26 in U.S. District Court, the Rider chapter of the American Association Union of Professors (AAUP) has filed a grievance against Rider for not reappointing Carroll in accordance with the agreement, said Jeffery Halpern, the chief grievance officer of the union.

An arbitration hearing in the union will be held on Sept. 29 and Oct. 1, but it could be months before a decision is made, Halpern said.

The news of her termination came after Carroll accused Rider on several occasions of providing “the male athletic teams with better, non-equivalent benefits as compared to the female athletic teams,” according to her court papers.

Within the lawsuit, Carroll cites several instances where the university favored men’s sports. Among her complaints, Carroll alleges that the male coaches are provided with more scholarship funding than female coaches to use in the recruiting process.

She claims that both the women’s softball and volleyball teams have less access to their locker rooms in comparison to the men’s baseball, basketball and wrestling teams.

Carroll also names booster funding as an area where she says male sports receive a larger portion than women’s.

The suit further charges that the male athletic teams have locker rooms closer to their playing fields, as well as larger coaching staffs. For example, two assistant coaches for the men’s baseball team compare with one for women’s softball.

According to the suit, complaints began on March 30, 2011, when Carroll reached out to the university’s associate vice president of human resources and affirmative action, Robert Stoto. During this process, Carroll pointed out the areas in which Rider had violated Title IX.

Following the accusation and after Carroll felt the university failed to take satisfactory measures in improving the treatment of the female sports programs, she made a series of other complaints, before the university agreed to address the situation.

In August 2013, Rider “hired an outside consultant to investigate Defendant’s athletics department and determine whether Defendant’s facilities were in compliance with Title IX,” according to the court documents.

Title IX is a 1972 federal law that forbids discrimination based on sex in any federally funded educational program. One of its major effects has been increased participation by girls and women in high school and collegiate sports.

When Carroll felt the university didn’t take the proper measures to correct the issues discovered by the investigation, she issued a complaint to Debora Stasolla, associate vice president for planning.

Four months later, Carroll expressed her displeasure in the progress of the situation and “requested that Defendant obtain an outside consultant to conduct a review of the overall athletic department.”

Shortly thereafter, Carroll was informed that Rider would not be renewing her contract following the 2015-2016 season.

Carroll has a career record of 401-631-3, which is skewed by the strong start to her Bronc career.

Carroll served as both the softball and field hockey coach for six seasons from 1994 to 1999.

She was named the MAAC Coach of the Year in 2003 and coached five palyers in the Rider Athletic Hall of Fame — Jen Dahl, inducted in 2005; Colleen Fox, 2006; Deanna Dovak, Rider’s first female All-American, 2008; Michelle Peel, 2009; and Heather Bientema, 2014.

Despite her lack of recent success, Carroll believes that her termination has to do with her gender, which would be a violation of Title VII. She also says her complaints were met with retaliation.

“Plaintiff had a reasonable belief that Defendant’s conduct which she complained of was in violation of the statutes under which this action is brought,” Carroll’s lawyers state within the lawsuit. “Plaintiff’s sex was a motivating and determinative factor in Defendant’s decisions not to renew her contract and advise her of the decision to terminate her employment.”

As reparation for the damage Carroll states has been caused by the university, she wants Rider to admit to all of its violations. Carroll is also looking to avoid her termination — which would potentially be Aug. 31, 2016 — as well as being awarded back and front pay, and “compensatory damages for past and future pain and suffering, emotional upset, mental anguish, humiliation, and loss of life’s pleasures, which Plaintiff has suffered or may suffer as a result of Defendant’s unlawful conduct.”

Carroll seeks to receive compensation for other claims under Title IX, Title VII, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the Conscientious Employee Protection Act. She wants the cost of the suit be placed on Rider’s tab.

With her team aware of the suit, Carroll will continue to coach the Bronc softball team through the coming season.

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