Jerry Ann Winters says a report saying she retaliated against a player is wrong.
By DARRELL FRY and ANTONYA ENGLISH
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000
TAMPA -- University of South Florida women's basketball coach Jerry Ann Winters was suspended with pay Wednesday after a university investigation concluded Winters dismissed a player in retaliation for her racial discrimination claims against the coach.
Winters, 52, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon through her Tampa attorney vigorously opposing the report's findings, which she called "wrong" and "one-sided." She will appeal the matter.
University vice president Laurey Stryker will handle the appeal. Her ruling, which will come within 20 business days after the appeal is filed, will be final, university spokesman Harry Battson said at a news conference Wednesday attended by university President Judy Genshaft and athletic director Paul Griffin.
Griffin suspended Winters for the duration of her appeal after meeting with her Wednesday morning. He said the university will use Stryker's ruling to determine what further disciplinary action, if any, is warranted against Winters. Possible actions range from a reprimand to dismissal, Battson said.
"I did not retaliate against Dione Smith as a result of her involvement in an investigation. . . ," Winters said in the statement. "The final investigative report is wrong and is defective on its face."
The report is the latest salvo to hit Winters and the athletic department, which is facing six federal racial discrimination lawsuits by black former players and an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint by a black former assistant coach.
The university's Equal Opportunity Affairs office, which has handled the investigation since August, interviewed 17 people and found that former player Dione Smith "would not have been dismissed from the basketball team was it not for her participation in a discrimination complaint."
In March 1999, Smith and several teammates complained to then-assistant athletic director Hiram Green that Winters was discriminating against them because they were black. Smith and others submitted written complaints to Green, who then investigated the matter and found a recurring theme of racism within the program, according to university documents.
In April 2000, Winters dismissed Smith, a three-year starter, from the team, saying that Smith showed an "outward and blatant disrespect for me" by singing a verse from a song on the team bus a month earlier that Winters thought questioned her job security.
Winters said Smith sang the phrase, "We ain't gonna see our coach no more." Smith said she sang, "This may be the last time we see our coaches."
EOA officials determined Winters retaliated against Smith because:
There was a causal connection between Smith's dismissal and her participation in Green's 1999 investigation. Several of Smith's teammates and coaches, plus former basketball office secretary Lisa Walker, said Winters talked about eliminating everyone who spoke against her in Green's investigation, and specifically contemplated dismissing Smith.
Testimony by former players and athletic department officials -- including Winters -- refuted Winters' initial claims that she did not know Smith was among the players who lodged discrimination complaints against her. Green said he told Winters in April 1999 of the players involved and their complaints after she confronted him about his investigation. Also, on Winters' taped recordings of her 1999 interview with Smith regarding the discrimination complaints, she says ". . . before you wrote a letter to Hiram and before you went to Hiram with concerns about racial inequality in this program . . ."
There were a few times when Winters treated Smith more harshly than players not involved in Green's investigation. Teammate Ashley Teets, a white player who is still on the team, recalled one instance when Winters ordered Smith to run laps for kicking the basketball in anger, but did nothing to Monica Echeverria, who is from South America, for doing the same thing.
Dismissing Smith for singing a line from a song that questioned Winters' job security was "unusually harsh." Winters stated Smith caused no problems before the singing incident.
Smith and her attorney, Jonathan L. Alpert, said the EOA's findings add credibility to the players' lawsuits and former assistant coach Tara Gibson's EEOC complaint.
"I think it will lay a foundation. It will put down the cement," said Smith, who has filed suit along with LaTonya Greer, Avia Lee, Tamekia Williams, Tanya Gary and Patrice Coleman. "At least people will know that these allegations were not made up."
Winters fervently disagreed, as did current players Shannon Layne and Lindsey Smith, who questioned the fairness of the EOA report.
"What (the players) told (EOA coordinator) Camille Blake was totally taken out of context," said Layne, a senior guard who played the past three seasons under Winters.
Winters, who was to begin her 25th year in coaching and fifth at USF, criticized EOA officials for only interviewing seven of the sixteen witnesses she listed. Eight out of Smith's 13 witnesses were interviewed, according to the report.
"It is fundamentally unfair to make these findings without talking to almost half of my witnesses," Winters said in her statement.
Winters said information and interviews that could support her position were either ignored or taken lightly by EOA officials.
For instance, former player Sarah Wilson told EOA officials Smith once threatened her by saying, "If you don't watch out, you're going to get hurt." But Winters said that information, which Griffin said would be deemed a serious matter by the university, was given no weight by the EOA. Smith denies threatening Wilson with physical harm.
Winters also said Walker's statements aren't credible because, Winters said, Walker is trying to "get even" with her after Winters denied her a promotion. Walker said, "That's absurd."
Winters said she dismissed Smith because of the singing incident and Smith's "belligerent and disrespectful attitude" when she discussed the matter with Smith in April.
"I, of course, at no time ever said that I would dismiss anyone who participated in (Green's investigation) and I have not done so," Winters said in the statement.
The EOA report also contained a statement from Green, who said Winters told him in July that Griffin once said, ". . . It would be better around here once we get rid of the people who were involved with this situation."
Wednesday, Griffin denied making that statement, and Winters denied telling that to Green.
Genshaft said the university is committed to getting to the bottom of the controversy. She reiterated that Joseph W. Hatchett, recently retired from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is investigating the university's policies and procedures related to discrimination claims.
Alpert, who represents the six former players and Gibson, questioned that commitment. "The problem is a systematic problem of institutional racism and bias. None of this would have happened had the coach been subject to the proper supervision, direction and control," Alpert said. "It is improper to delegate blame to the coach and attempt to avoid institutional responsibility."
HOMETOWN: Smithville, Ark.
EDUCATION: Arkansas State University: bachelor of science in education, 1977; master of science in education, 1978.
HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE:
1976-84: Southern Baptist Junior College (96-105 record).
1984-95: Arkansas State (196-120 record).
1995-96: South Alabama (12-15).
1996-present: USF (47-64).
Post-season appearances: 1991-92, 1992-93 and 1993-94 -- NWIT.
Post-season awards: 1983-84 -- Arkansas Junior College Coach of the Year; 1986-87 -- Southland Conference Coach of the Year; 1991-92 and 1992-93 -- Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year.
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