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Anger over discrimination claims not being looked at

By ANTONYA ENGLISH and DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 12, 2000


TAMPA -- Former players and a former basketball office employee expressed disappointment Wednesday that the University of South Florida isn't doing more to investigate racial discrimination claims in the women's program.

On Monday, Joseph W. Hatchett, recently retired from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who has been asked by the university to look into the program's controversy, said his investigation would examine policies and procedures but not focus on determining the merit of recent lawsuits by four black former players.

USF officials said Wednesday that though there is no specific investigation into the racial discrimination allegations, Hatchett's inquiry and the university's Equal Opportunity Affairs investigation may yield answers to the claims.

The Equal Opportunity Affairs office is investigating accusations by former player Dione Smith that she was dismissed from the team this summer in retaliation for lodging complaints in a 1999 athletic department internal review.

"It doesn't make me feel any better," former women's basketball secretary Lisa Walker said after learning Hatchett's investigation could address the discrimination claims. "I'm having difficulty understanding why the university doesn't want to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible. It's time to actually address the issue. Every step of the way those girls felt they were doing the right thing, and every step of the way it was shut down.

"The university is doing the same thing it has done for the last year and a half, which is sidestep the issue. It's becoming embarrassing."

Former assistant coach Tara Gibson, who has an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the university, said the narrow focus of Hatchett's inquiry doesn't surprise her.

"I felt hurt and deceived again, but then I thought about it and realized it's typical USF," Gibson said. "They give people the illusion that they're going to investigate the issue and make you think they are honestly looking into it, but when the truth comes out, it's just another coverup. They're just buying time and hoping it will go away."

Smith, one of the four players suing USF, said Wednesday she is disheartened by the news that Hatchett isn't specifically investigating the discrimination claims.

"I was overwhelmed (upon hearing the news)," Smith said. "Everybody was under the impression that he was going to investigate, and then all of a sudden they are saying it's only the process and procedures. I was a little bit deflated."

Hatchett said in a statement Wednesday his inquiry will focus on the policies the university has followed in handling the discrimination allegations, but he did not rule out further investigations.

"Once the Equal Opportunity Affairs office has completed its investigation, (university) President (Judy) Genshaft and I will determine whether any further investigation is required," Hatchett said in the statement.

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