Michael Hamar

Virginia Commonwealth University Coach Fired for Being Gay

Filed By Michael Hamar | November 29, 2012 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: anti-gay bigotry, Bob McDonnell, Ken Cuccinelli, Michael Moore, VCU, Virginia Museum of Natural History

VCU_Seal1.jpgMany readers may be shocked by the title of this post, but here in Virginia, LGBT citizens have absolutely zero state law employment protections and since Congress has never passed ENDA, there are no federal law protections either.

This was made abundantly clear by (1) Governor Bob McDonnell's refusal to sign an Executive Order adding sexual orientation to the Commonwealth of Virginia's employment non-discrimination policy, and (2) the refusal of the Virginia Supreme Court to consider an appeal by Michael Moore, a state employee fired for being gay in Moore v. Virginia Museum of Natural History.

With virulently anti-gay Ken Cuccinelli the apparent GOP nominee for governor in the 2013 elections, a GOP win would likely guarantee that more anti-gay witch hunts would ensue throughout state agencies and universities. GayRVA looks at the latest travesty at Virginia Commonwealth University ("VCU"). Here are highlights:

For eight years James Finley went to work for VCU's women's volleyball team. For eight years he poured his heart and soul into his team of women. And on Monday November 19th, James Finley was fired. Finley says the reasons for his contract termination are simple. It wasn't his winning record. It wasn't his personal commitment to the team. It wasn't the move to a tougher competing conference his team earned under his guidance. According to Finley, it was because he was openly gay.

People picked the Rams to take 6th place. Instead they took 3rd, with a final record of 25-6 overall in the regular season - they got as far as the semi finals - a solid standing for a team in their first A10 championship.

On Nov. 19th, the Monday after they returned from the championships, Coach Finley had a message waiting for him from AD McLaughlin's secretary. "They wanted a confidential meeting," said Finley. He figured it was to discuss his contract renewal - most VCU coaches are on year-to-year contracts, and at the end of seasons, coaches and administration get together to discuss their future together.

But when Finley met with McLaughlin this time, the conversation was different. "He said they wanted to go in a different direction," said Finley. The new direction did not include Finley as the head coach of his team. It did not include Finley on staff at all. [T]here were several red flags that popped up throughout the season leading up to this moment.

"From the beginning he interacted with other coaches, staffs, other teams. He participated [with them], and with ours he didn't... At booster events, he avoided me whenever I was there. [I'd be] having a conversation with him and he'd walk away when I was trying to talk to him. I'd say 'Hi' and he'd look up at me, and put his head back down and not acknowledge me."

Finley didn't think much of the issue as the season passed, but on Oct. 5th, when Pat Stauffer, a 30-year-veteran of VCU athletics and an open lesbian, was demoted from Senior Women's Administrator to Sr. Associate AD for Sports Administration. It was too much for Finley, it was another red flag.

Since his meeting with McLaughlin, Finley has taken action within the university system to solve his problem. He met with VCU's VP of Diversity this week. He was told diversity was one of VCU's core values, and that an investigation was started to examine his dismissal and his charge of discrimination. When asked what he wanted, Finley said "I'd like to have my job back."

Virginia lacks sexual orientation in its list of protected classes for employment. However, VCU does include it in their anti-discrimination policy. Finley believes this policy was violated. John Sternlicht, Finley's husband and a lawyer, admits it's very hard to prove discrimination in most cases - you have to look at the entire circumstance to understand what has happened. He believes his husband's situation, with the lack of normal treatment and the demotion of the other LGBT employee, is evidence enough. "You have to have enough evidence to get your case to a jury or your case is thrown out," said Sternlicht, "and this would be enough to get to a jury."

The language McLaughlin used also caused Boyd and her teammates some concern.

"He said 'We want someone to better represent the school, and coach had never done anything to misrepresent the school - he's always very appropriate and nice to people, even when people are rude to him. I've never seen him in my five years misrepresent the school in any way."

Boyd agrees with Finley and does not think this issue comes from the college's higher-ups. "Our school is very diverse, I wouldn't really expect this... I don't think it's VCU, I think it's on the administrative side. I don't want to throw the AD under the bus, but we never had an issue until he got here."

And if a law suit ensues, who will represent VCU? You guessed it, Ken Cuccinelli. Anyone in their right mind should not want to move to Virginia. And as I have noted many times before, were circumstances different, I'd move from Virginia in a heart beat. Under Bob McDonnell and the Christofascists at The Family Foundation, an FOTF and FRC affiliate, that rule the Republican Party of Virginia, Virginia is best suited for knuckle dragging Neanderthals.


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