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Report: Griffin actions proper

AD did not violate USF policy in handling discrimination complaints, it says.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 24, 2001


TAMPA -- South Florida athletic director Paul Griffin should have taken a "different approach" in handling allegations of racial discrimination in the women's basketball program, but he did not violate university policies, a report released by the university said Tuesday.

During a news conference, USF president Judy Genshaft released the findings of a four-month investigation by former 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Joseph W. Hatchett and two associates in his Tallahassee law firm.

The report, more than 100 pages long, examines the university's policies and procedures concerning racial allegations. In it, Hatchett:

Reviewed the handling of former player Dione Smith's allegations of racial discrimination that led to a federal lawsuit.

Compared USF's policies with those of the other nine state universities and recommended changes based on stronger policies at other schools.

Found that although the athletic department operated within university policy when it conducted an in-house investigation of alleged racial harassment, it should have turned the matter over to the university's Equal Opportunity Affairs office.

Recommended changes to USF's policies for discrimination complaints, including mandatory reporting by university supervisors of any discrimination complaint, a measure Genshaft implemented immediately. Under the previous guidelines, only sexual harassment complaints had to be reported to the Equal Opportunity Affairs office.

"If the University had this requirement in place at the time of Smith's complaint ... requiring (former assistant athletic director Hiram) Green or Griffin to report allegations of racial discrimination to the EOA office, it possibly could have avoided many of the problems that this investigation has exposed," the report said. "The Athletic Department, however, should have realized that the EOA office was best equipped to investigate allegations of racial discrimination and should have referred Smith to the EOA office."

Because university policy did not require supervisors to refer allegations of racial discrimination to the Equal Opportunity Affairs office, Griffin "acted within the scope of university policy," the report concluded.

Genshaft said Griffin, athletic director since 1986, will not be disciplined.

"In two separate occasions the report states that athletic director Paul Griffin did not violate policies of the university," Genshaft said. "It was a judgment call."

Griffin was attending Conference USA meetings in Amelia Island and could not be reached for comment.

Genshaft praised the report, saying implementation of the recommended changes would help USF fulfill its commitment to diversity.

"(Hatchett's) report makes it clear that USF needs improved policies to guide supervisors in responding to discrimination complaints," Genshaft said. "His recommendations will improve the environment for diversity throughout the entire university."

Based on Hatchett's recommendations, Genshaft announced that the Equal Opportunity Affairs office and its Office of Diversity Initiatives will be consolidated into one office, the Diversity and Equal Opportunity Office.

Genshaft said a national search will be started immediately for an associate vice president to oversee the office, which will answer directly to Genshaft and the university provost. Interim provost David Stamps will oversee the reorganization and immediate implementation of the policy changes suggested by the report. The new associate vice president will be required to submit a report to Genshaft every semester on diversity at USF.

Smith and seven other black former players have filed federal lawsuits against former coach Jerry Ann Winters and the university alleging racial discrimination. Former coach Tara Gibson has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging she was hired only because she is black and was ignored and excluded because of her race.

Winters was fired in December after the Equal Opportunity Affairs office determined she retaliated against Smith for participating in the internal investigation by dismissing her from the team.

Green conducted an internal investigation and found in April 1999 that a "re-ocurring theme of racism" existed in the women's basketball program. Winters received professional development training sessions from Griffin and was sent to a four-hour diversity seminar.

The Hatchett report criticized the handling of Smith's case.

"The main problem in the Smith case is that the athletic department attempted to handle this matter itself instead of calling upon the EOA office to become involved," it stated. "... Having the athletic department investigate itself clearly invites criticism of the investigative findings and as suspicion that the charges were "swept under the rug.' "

Jonathan L. Alpert, the attorney for Smith and the other former players who are suing, said the report criticizes certain actions, then condones them.

"If Paul Griffin is part of the problem, as the report seems to indicate, leaving Paul Griffin and this present (athletic department) structure intact, which the report recommends, is like leaving the fox in charge of the hen house," Alpert said.

The report's findings were unsatisfactory for Smith, who has remained on scholarship and has been offered a chance to rejoin the team since Winters was fired.

"They are trying to make progress, but at the same time they are trying to make one person the (villain)," Smith said. "Just getting rid of coach Winters is not the issue. The issue at hand is that it was brought forward two years ago and nothing was done about it. You had somebody besides the head coach that knew problems were going on."

Alpert said that if USF really wanted an honest evaluation, the report would have determined if the former players' allegations had merit. Hatchett said before his investigation he would not determine that.

"I have the highest regard for Judge Hatchett, and I commend his good intentions," Alpert said. "But the problem that we have of institutional racism at this university continues and is made worse by self-limiting reports such as this one."

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