EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 28, 2012

Ex-Merrimack athletic official investigated for discrimination

By Douglas Moser
dmoser@eagletribune.com

---- — A former Merrimack College assistant athletic director is the center of an investigation in Virginia, accused of discriminating against two gay athletic employees.

Ed McLaughlin, who was assistant athletic director at Merrimack from 1997 to 2000, did not renew the contract for Virginia Commonwealth University’s women’s volleyball coach James Finley, a coach whose teams consistently have ranked among the top in the nation. This year, the volleyball team went 25-6 this season, and it has reached the conference championship match in four out the last seven years.

“My determination is it was due to my sexual orientation,” said Finley, who is gay and lives with his husband John and their three sons in Virginia.

About two months ago, McLaughlin stripped Patricia Stauffer, the senior women’s administrator who also is gay, of her title without explanation, two university employees said.

McLaughlin was hired at VCU July 24, according to the university.

Virginia Commonwealth University issued a brief statement yesterday. “Personnel actions are confidential. We adhere to federal and state laws and regulations that protect the privacy of our employees and the conditions of their employment,” said Pamela Lepley, a spokeswoman for VCU. “The employment action was taken in compliance with appropriate VCU employment practices and policies. VCU and its athletic director, Ed McLaughlin, are fully committed to the core value of diversity – as reflected in the university’s diversity statement and strategic plan. As the (Commonwealth of Virginia)’s most diverse university, we practice the spirit of that policy statement every day.”

A voice message left at McLaughlin’s university phone number seeking comment was not returned yesterday. But VCU released a statement attributed to McLaughlin: “A core value of Virginia Commonwealth University – and one that I personally share – is diversity,” he said. “I came to VCU because of how the university embraces diversity and inclusive excellence and fosters a community where differences are valued and respected. It is unfortunate that Mr. Finley feels the decision not to renew his contract was based on anything other than previously stated concerns about the volleyball program. As I said earlier this month, the VCU volleyball program needs new leadership if it is to achieve athletic and academic success at an elite level nationally. I am confident about the path ahead and the upcoming search for a new head coach.”

On Nov. 19, Finley said McLaughlin called him into his office and told him he would not renew his contract. “He said, ‘We want to go in a new direction. We’re not renewing your contract. Your employment will be over Dec. 31. Thank you for your time at VCU.’ That was it,” Finley said, recalling the meeting.

Finley has been the head coach of the women’s volleyball team at VCU for eight years, with a record of 151-116. In four of the first seven years, the team went to the Colonial Athletic Association conference championship four times, winning once and advancing to the NCAA tournament.

This year, VCU’s first year in the Atlantic 10 conference, the team went 25-6, the highest winning percentage of any VCU fall team this year and the best winning percentage for a women’s volleyball team at VCU in the university’s history. The team lost in the second round of the playoff tournament to Xavier University.

Finley said he met with the university’s chief diversity officer and the compliance officer, and the university has launched an investigation.

McLaughlin, a Natick native, left Merrimack College as assistant athletic director in 2000 for a job as athletic director at Niagara University in New York. In 2009, one of McLaughlin’s associate athletic directors at Niagara, Glenn Hofmann, landed a job as athletic director at Merrimack.

Hofmann was forced to resign in August after a roughly seven-week investigation at Merrimack into “personnel-based” issues, according to a statement from Merrimack at the time. Merrimack refused to disclose the nature or conclusion of that investigation, which was conducted by the Boston office of the law firm Bingham McCutchen LLP.

McLaughlin left Niagara after he was hired at VCU July 24; Hofmann was hired at VCU as executive associate athletic director Nov. 2, according to the university.