RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Commonwealth University has found itself the center of a discrimination controversy after a newly hired athletic director fired the schools openly gay women’s volleyball coach.
James Finley, who coached the team for eight years, leading them to the A10 championships where they placed 3rd, said AD Ed McLaughlin treated him strangely all season — avoiding him, not meeting his team, and not attending games. When another LGBT employee, a 30-year-member of the athletic department and an open lesbian, was demoted, and Finley’s contract was not renewed, it set off red flags.
“If one thing happens, OK, it happens; but if it happens a second time, it’s a pattern,” said Finley when he connected the dots. The lack of interaction all season and the circumstances of his dismissal became suspect.
Finley’s volleyball team members were just as confused by his dismissal. Kristin Boyd, an elementary education major and 5-year-veteran of VCU Women’s Volleyball, said, “All of the teammates were very surprised and some were upset. We did really well this year, he had no reason to get fired.”
The language McLaughlin used also caused Boyd and her teammates some concern.
“He said ‘We want someone to better represent the school,’ and coach had never done anything to misrepresent the school – he’s always very appropriate and nice to people, even when people are rude to him. I’ve never seen him in my 5 years misrepresent the school in any way.”
Finley filed a complaint with the college’s administration, claiming he was fired for being gay.
Since the story broke, it has hit national headlines, but the school has stayed mum on the issue, only reaffirming their policy of non-discrimination and saying all personnel matters are private through federal law. The school’s non-discrimination policy is an internal policy, however, as Virginia does not include sexual orientation in its state non-discrimination policy.
At a meeting held Thursday by the school’s newly created VCU Equality program, Wanda Mitchell, VCU’s founding Chief Diversity Officer, confirmed that the only two negative employment moves made since McLaughlin took over the athletic department were toward the two openly LGBT employees.
The one-hour meeting included an introduction by Mitchell and the school’s Provost and VP of academic affairs, Beverly Warren.
A majority of the event was opened up for students and faculty to express their concerns, but the first student to speak, who chose not to identify himself, walked out in protest after finding out specifics of Finley’s termination would not be discussed.
“If you’re not going to discuss what most people here feel is relevant, I’m just going to leave. Thank you for your time,” he said.
Nina Pinder, a first year student at VCU and self-identified member of the LGBT community, said she didn’t leave the meeting feeling reassured. “I didn’t feel like they took a very strong stand to find out what happened,” said Pinder about the meeting. “If they find there was discrimination, how safe for students will it be to have opportunities opened up for us?”
Warren said the school’s internal investigation could take up to 45 days, and the results would be confidential, though Finley would be allowed to release them if he saw fit.