HARTFORD, Conn. (CN) — When successive recruitment scandals embroiled its men’s basketball program, the University of Connecticut allowed the coach who is white to resign but fired the coach who is black. On Monday the school was hit with a federal discrimination complaint.
Represented by the Hartford firm Madsen, Prestley and Parenteau, fired coach Kevin Ollie brought his suit about three months after word of the NCAA allegations against him became public.
News reports indicate that the NCAA accused Ollie, who was fired in June, of providing false or misleading information regarding phone calls that a recruit received from two famous UConn alums, former professional basketball player Ray Allen and Rudy Gay of the San Antonio Spurs.
Attorneys for Ollie told one publication that Ollie was aware of the Allen phone call, but never arranged it. Arranging such a phone call would have been a recruitment violation.
No final decision has been made regarding the alleged NCAA violations, which Ollie is contesting, but he says UConn was more lenient with the program’s previous head coach, Jim Calhoun, who is white, in the face of similar allegations.
Ollie says Calhoun “was found to have engaged in conduct in violation of NCAA rules and regulations following in an investigation conducted by the NCAA and Defendant in 2011 and 2012 that was more severe than the conduct which Defendant has identified as the basis for its decision to terminate Plaintiff’s employment.”
Calhoun, who is now coaching at University of Saint Joseph, was suspended by the NCAA for three games in 2012 for recruiting violations. Unlike what happened with Ollie, however, the university did not alter Calhoun’s employment, and paid him more $1.9 million between 2012 and September of 2018, according to Ollie’s complaint.
Ollie, a former player under Calhoun, was hired as an assistant coach by Calhoun in 2010 and two years later succeeded him.
Jacques Parenteau, one of Ollie’s attorneys, has quoted Ollie as denying “any conduct that would constitute non-compliance with NCAA rules and regulations and looks forward to defending himself and restoring his reputation.”
The complaint also accuses UConn of trying to discourage Ollie from filing a discrimination complaint.
“Defendant has maintained that, if Plaintiff files a complaint of discrimination with an
administrative agency such as the EEOC, or files a complaint of discrimination in a judicial forum, Defendant will refuse to proceed with the contractual grievance arbitration process that is currently underway between Plaintiff and his union, and Defendant,” the complaint states.
In the grievance matter, Ollie is represented by the University of Connecticut Chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
Ollie’s attorneys said they expect the union grievance proceedings through arbitration will be limited to a claim that the school violated collective bargaining agreements by firing Ollie without just cause. The federal lawsuit is separate from that.
They say it was necessary to bring the civil complaint because the deadline for doing so would have expired before the arbitration process was completed. In federal court, Ollie seeks an injunction preserving his right to file a discrimination lawsuit and continue to grieve his firing through arbitration.
UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz denied any wrongdoing by the school.
“As UConn has stated from the outset, the university terminated Kevin Ollie’s employment due to violations of NCAA rules, pursuant to his employment agreement,” Reitz said. “Any claim to the contrary is without merit.”