LUBBOCK, Texas (CN) — The former head coach of Texas Tech University’s women’s basketball team, who was fired in August after several players accused her staff of abuse, sued the school Tuesday, alleging sex discrimination and defamation.
Marlene Stollings sued the school and athletic director Kirby Hocutt in federal court in Lubbock for breach of contract, fraud, fraudulent inducement, sex discrimination and defamation.
The Red Raiders suffered four consecutive losing seasons before Stollings was hired in 2018. She quickly turned the program around, attaining a winning season in only her second year before the postseason was canceled by the Covid-19 pandemic in March.
Stollings was abruptly fired two months ago in spite of her success after USA Today published accounts by several of her players alleging a “toxic atmosphere” that resulted in 12 of 21 players leaving the program. Players alleged being punished with reduced game time or conditioning assignments if their game-worn heart-rate monitors dropped below 90% capacity for more than two minutes of game time.
“It was basically like a torture mechanism,” former player Erin DeGrate, who transferred to Baylor last year, told the newspaper. “I felt like the system wasn’t supposed to be used how she was using it.”
Five of Stollings’ players accused former strength and conditioning coach Ralph Petrella of sexual harassment, of “making suggestive comments to one player and using a therapy technique that involved applying pressure to some players’ chests and pubic bones and groins.” Petrella resigned in March and has denied any misconduct.
Stollings’ lawsuit downplays the players allegations, claiming some of her players “decided to transfer to less-demanding or less-competitive programs” due to the program’s “increased expectations” under Stollings. She disputes that she was fired for cause.
“In order to secure a transfer and continue playing without interruption, NCAA rules require that student-athletes must claim that the transfer is based on a desire to avoid a negative atmosphere or for physical and mental health reasons,” the 33-page complaint states. “As a result, some of the departing student-athletes provided negative feedback about their experiences with the Lady Raiders.”
Stollings claims the school conducted two internal reviews in response to the player complaints and that they concluded she “had not acted inappropriately or abusively and that any complaints to the contrary were unfounded.” She claims Hocutt told her before and after the USA Today story was published that the complaints were without basis, but that he started to look “to deflect blame” in the wake of the negative publicity.
Stollings claims she is being singled out as a female coach, that male coaches at the school “engage in confirmed, more-extreme practices and procedures” that are worse than Stollings’. She also claims she is one of four members of the gay and lesbian community that have been “victimized” this year by the school’s athletic department.
“Following her termination, Mr. Hocutt made knowingly false and malicious defamatory public statements concerning Coach Stollings as a person and as a coach,” the complaint states. “Texas Tech and Mr. Hocutt have grievously harmed Coach Stollings career and damaged Coach Stollings ability to secure future coaching positions, in addition to causing her severe emotional injury.”
Texas Tech officials declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday evening.
Stollings’ attorney, Peter Ginsberg with Michelman & Robinson in New York, said the lawsuit “is a bold and courageous step” by his client. He said Stollings’ teams achieved the highest grade point averages of all athletics teams at the school in spite of previously being one of the lowest performing.
The complaint alleges that Hocut made malicious statements about Stollings “in order to preserve his own position.”
“[F]or Texas Tech and Hocutt, any public attention on the school’s Athletics Department threatened not only to shine a light on Hocutt’s efforts to cover up abuses in the lucrative men’s sports programs, but also call attention to Hocutt’s previous and disturbing tenure at both Ohio University and University of Miami, Florida,” Ginsberg said in a statement. “Consequently, the decision was made to sacrifice Stollings, notwithstanding her winning ways on and off the basketball court.”