Crime & Courts

Former coach is fifth ex-employee to sue Newman University in less than a year

Former HR head alleges in lawsuit that Newman University fired her for whistle-blowing

Newman University’s former director of human resources says in a lawsuit that she was fired in retaliation for reporting what she believed were rule and policy violations, mismanagement, abuse of authority and unethical behavior by officials.
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Newman University’s former director of human resources says in a lawsuit that she was fired in retaliation for reporting what she believed were rule and policy violations, mismanagement, abuse of authority and unethical behavior by officials.

A Newman University volleyball coach who filed internal sex discrimination and harassment complaints is now suing the school, saying she was treated poorly by her supervisor and paid less because she’s a woman.

Destiny Clark is the fifth ex-employee of Wichita’s private, Catholic college to file suit against it in recent months. Three of the lawsuits, including Clark’s, mention her internal Title IX complaints and claim the school pushed back during their investigations. All five of the ex-employees suing allege unfair termination or treatment and ask for money damages.

The school denies wrongdoing in each case.

Clark’s lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Wichita, accuses Newman and its athletic director, Victor Trilli, of retaliation, gender and pay discrimination, creating a hostile work environment, intentionally inflicting emotional distress and negligence. Newman hired Clark in May 2015 to serve as head coach of the girls’ volleyball team.

The job, she says in the suit, came with a $37,000 annual salary as well as a spoken promise to offer her the strength coaching position and $20,000 in additional pay.

But the school never made good on the pledge, even though she was certified and created strength training workouts for her and other Newman teams, the suit says. Instead, it hired men — at least one of whom was less qualified than Clark, the suit says — to fill the role.

When Clark asked Trilli, her direct supervisor, to honor the spoken promise, he “laughed in Ms. Clark’s face and offered her a $2,000 stipend” to work the job — 10 times less than the agreed-upon pay and what the male strength coaches ultimately made, according to her lawsuit.

“Ms. Clark, as the volleyball head coach, was paid less than all other head coaches at Newman who performed work substantially equal in skill, effort, and responsibility, and who had the same or substantially similar conditions of work,” the suit says.

Clark also contends Trilli and the school routinely placed her all-female volleyball squad “at a lower priority than male teams” when scheduling practices and failed to stop a men’s basketball player who repeatedly interrupted volleyball practices, sexually harassed volleyball players and refused to leave the gym when asked. Clark sought a restraining order from a Sedgwick County judge after a confrontation with the men’s player turned physical.

Clark ultimately left Newman to take an assistant coaching position with Rhode Island’s Providence College, Newman spokesman Clark Schafer said. Her resignation was effective July 16.

Asked for comment on Clark’s allegations, Schafer provided an emailed statement that called her claims “without merit.” The school hadn’t been formally served with the lawsuit as of Friday, he said.

“All actions taken by the university with regard to Ms. Clark were legitimate, non-discriminatory, and non-retaliatory,” the statement says. “Newman University investigated the allegations made by Ms. Clark, both before and after her voluntary resignation. It was determined that there was no evidence to support her claim that Newman, or any employee listed in the lawsuit as a defendant violated the law.”

The statement adds that Newman’s has anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies and “takes care to ensure” employees with similar jobs receive similar pay.

“At all times, Newman University complied with the applicable state and federal laws,” the statement says. “The goal of Newman University is to provide its students and employees an academic and professional environment in which they enjoy learning and working.”

Clark’s attorney, Jennifer Hill, declined a request for comment.

Clarks’ lawsuit says her unfavorable treatment started not long after her hiring. She says in the suit that when she reported problems scheduling volleyball practices to Trilli, he “would simply demand that Ms. Clark acquiesce to men’s basketball team’s demands.” At one point after she brought the conflicts to his attention, Trilli also engaged in “highly personal and upsetting” discussions with her, including questioning her about her dating life, childbearing plans, hair styles and other personal matters, the suit claims.

In joint meetings with Trilli and the men’s basketball coaching staff, she was “belittled, openly mocked and treated with hostility,” the suit alleges.

The suit says she filed the Title IX complaint with Newman in October 2017 “after two full school years of watching her female athletic teams being treated less favorably than the male team.” The complaint “included her concerns about the harassment and inappropriate conduct of the male basketball player and the failure of basketball coaching staff to property control or manage” him. It also mentioned the volleyball team’s “unequal access to practice facilities.”

When Trilli was told about Clark’s Title IX complaint, he threatened to retaliate against her in front of some of his colleagues, including Newman’s then-head of human resources, Mandy Greenfield, according to Clark’s lawsuit.

Greenfield, who was in charge of the investigation into Clark’s Title IX complaint, sued the school in December after she says she was fired for whistleblowing.

John Walker, who helped investigate Clark’s Title IX complaint, sued over his termination in January.

Clark’s suit contends Newman president Noreen Carocci defended Trilli when told about his retaliation plans and “made it clear” to Greenfield that she “considered Clark’s Title IX complaint to be a false report of discrimination,” the suit alleges.

In the following months, Clark says Newman made her work under Trilli, denied her requests to return to campus to coach her team after she was told to work from home for her safety, and didn’t take steps to protect her from the men’s basketball player.

She also claims Newman let male student athletes live in on-campus dorms free of charge during the summer of 2017 but didn’t offer the same treatment to female athletes; made her move a volleyball tournament from the school’s gym to an off-campus location to accommodate an outside speaker; and forced her team to pull out of a four-game tournament in Texas because it refused to let seven freshmen players make up a required orientation meeting scheduled for the same time period.

Newman University, at 3100 McCormick, has about 1,800 graduate and undergraduate students.

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Amy Renee Leiker has been reporting for The Wichita Eagle since 2010. She covers crime, courts and breaking news and updates the newspaper’s online databases. You can reach her at 316-268-6644. She’s an avid reader and mom of three in her non-work time.