Rutgers has tried to clean up the Mike Rice/Tim Pernetti mess by introducing a new mess to distract everyone. The newly-hired athletic director Julie Hermann was involved in a lawsuit with a former assistant, Ginger Hineline, while head coach of the women's volleyball team at the University of Tennessee. Hineline alleged in the suit that she was fired for being pregnant. Unrelated to the suit, but in the process of properly vetting Hermann, The Newark Star Ledger also learned that Hermann had been accused of abusing her players.
Dealing first with the lawsuit—which settled out of court for $150,000—a central element was a video from Hineline's 1995 wedding where Hermann appears to make some fairly standard awful jokes into a wedding videographer's lens.
"I hope it's good tonight," she says into the camera. "Because I know you've been waiting for a while, but I hope it's not too good, because I don't want you to come back February with any surprises, you know, the office and all, and it would be hard to have a baby in there."
Hineline, both in the lawsuit and in a follow up interview with the Star Ledger, makes clear that they weren't just jokes, but part of an overall pattern of discouragement that eventually led to her termination when Hermann learned she was pregnant. Hermann claims she had planned to fire Hineline prior to learning of the pregnancy and it was a purely performance-based decision.
Lawsuits are lawsuits. Anyone can sue another person for any perceived grievance and hash it out in court. That this suit was settled out of court means nothing other than someone at Tennessee did a cost benefit analysis and decided paying $150,000 to make it go away was easier—financially and public relationally—than fighting it and potentially being found in the wrong. (Edit: the $150,000 was actually paid as a result of a jury verdict) What's scary about this lawsuit is not so much what it says about Hermann—even though the allegations are ugly and she basically lied her way through her introductory press conference at Rutgers, claiming not to have remembered the wedding where she was a bridesmaid and caught the bouquet and specifically denied the existence of the video tape—but rather what it says about Rutgers. The school did not even know about this whole thing until the search committee read about it in a paper.
Kate Sweeney, co-chair of the search committee with [Rutgers vice president Richard] Edwards, said Friday evening she knew nothing about the lawsuit until she read about it in an article about the job finalists the day before the announcement. She said she sat in on four interviews with Hermann and that no one among the 26-member search committee asked about the discrimination case. Even so, the lawsuit makes no difference to her.
Here's the part where we remind you that Rutgers is in this whole mess because of an institutional failure to fully investigate issues relative to their athletic administrators. When the people doing the hiring don't know about a discriminatory lawsuit involving one of their candidates until the 11th hour and don't even give a shit about it when they do find out about it, the problem remains institutional, not individual. The lawsuit—and behavior alleged therein—is now decades old, and Hermann is decades older. She is allowed to mature and develop as a person, but her employers should at least care about these things and be out in front of them.
It is unsurprising then that further allegations—this time of straight up physical and verbal abuse akin to her predecessor's—were discovered by a newspaper and not Rutgers's executive search committee. The Star Ledger describes a team meeting, Hermann's last, to discuss a letter written by her players. In it, they described a culture where players were pitted against each other, humiliated and physically punished—sometimes even during games—and they revolted. It was like the team's Declaration of Independence.
"The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable," the players wrote. Specifically, they said the coach had called them "whores, alcoholics and learning disabled."
In blunt terms, the players wrote, "It has been unanimously decided that this is an irreconcilable issue."
Hermann took in the words and apparently said "I choose not to coach you guys" and walked out. She has since denied the allegations, but the Tennessee athletic director was reportedly present for that meeting. A prior boss was alleged to have been in the room when this vivid letter was read aloud and that seems like a fairly easy thing to find out. Especially for a program mired in its own scandal of physical and mental abuse at the hands of a maniac coach. At this point "have you ever been accused of physically or verbally abused any students" should be a standard question in an interview for any position of authority at Rutgers.
Even looking at this in the light most favorable to Hermann, for the sake of argument, this was a very long time ago. People make mistakes all the time and they should be permitted to learn from them. Julie Hermann is entitled to the same process—for what it's worth, colleagues from her 16 years at Louisville have nothing but praise for her—but maybe Rutgers is not the best spot for that second chance. Maybe if Rutgers was not asleep at the switch she wouldn't be, but then they probably wouldn't have needed to hire her in the first place.
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