Tuesday, February 15, 2000

Coach clashes get to court

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For a few heady weeks in 1995, Robin J. Murphy had her first job as a collegiate swimming coach, as an assistant at the University of Cincinnati.

        But within three months, head coach Monty Hopkins had fired her for what he said was insubordination.

        Ms. Murphy sued, calling it retaliation by good male employees in the athletics department who resented having to hire a woman and were angered by her accusations of sexual discrimination.

        “She had the nerve to go outside the department ... and complain about sex discrimination,” her attorney, Marc D. Mezibov, said in his opening statement Monday as her case went to trial in U.S. District Court.

        Ms. Murphy of Terrace Park said the retaliation violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

        Her original sex discrimination claim was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Herman J. Weber before the trial began. Even so, she can win if she persuades the jury of seven men and one woman that UC retaliated because she complained about what she thought was a violation of her civil rights.

        Mr. Mezibov said Mr. Hopkins' antipathy was evident even during the initial job interview, telling Ms. Murphy he was being forced by affirmative action to hire a woman.

        Once she was hired in September 1995, Mr. Mezibov continued, “Ms. Murphy was humiliated, degraded and marginalized by Mr. Hopkins.”

        Mr. Mezibov said Mr. Hopkins did not allow her to involve herself in any workouts, he wouldn't introduce his assistant to other coaches and officials at swim meets, and he would “berate” her in front of the men and women on UC's team.

        The perception — and later the baseless accusation — of insubordination began when she complained to Mr. Hopkins, Mr. Mezibov said.

        Mr. Hopkins' resentment increased when Ms. Murphy “complained quite forcefully” to the UC ombuds office, Mr. Mezibov said. The ombuds' attempts to mediate failed and then-Athletic Director Gerald O'Dell told Mr. Hopkins to fire Ms. Murphy, the lawyer said.

        UC attorney Doreen Canton responded that there was no sex discrimination or complaint to the ombuds about sex discrimination. Instead, Ms. Canton said, the case involves “head-butting” between Mr. Hopkins and an assistant “who couldn't or wouldn't do the things that the head coach wanted her to do.”

        Ms. Murphy was hired because she appeared qualified and her gender “absolutely” was a plus, Ms. Canton said. Mr. Hopkins interviewed no men.

        Mr. Hopkins and Ms. Murphy met as Mariemont High School students and again at the Terrace Park Swim Club, where he told her about the opening and invited her to apply.

        Within a month after she started as assistant UC swim coach, Mr. Hopkins knew “it's not going to work,” Ms. Canton said.

        They differed on her duties and long hours, especially on weekends when swim meets were scheduled and “he expected her to be there,” Ms. Canton said.

        After a meeting with the ombuds over a variety of personal conflicts that did not include sex discrimination, Ms. Murphy told the coach, “I'm not going to do anything unless I think it's reasonable,” Ms. Canton said, “She didn't back off” and “nothing happened to change his mind.”

        Hired in September, she was fired in December.

        Ms. Murphy is asking jurors to reinstate her or give her enough money until she finds a comparable job as well as unspecified damages and attorney's fees.

        Testimony resumes today.


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