Ollie alleges UConn deterred him from filing a racial complaint

Kevin Ollie believes his dismissal as UConn men’s basketball coach in March may have been racially motivated. Or at least he wants the chance to make that claim.

Ollie and his attorneys have been seeking for several months to file a complaint of race discrimination with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or in the courts. His attorneys want to preserve the right to do so after his current arbitration process with UConn is over.

However, UConn is preventing him from doing so, based on a provision in the collective bargaining agreement between Ollie’s union and the school that would allow UConn to end its current arbitration proceedings with Ollie if he took that route, according to his attorneys.

With that in mind, and the fact that the statute of limitations for filing a discrimination case with the CHRO was on Monday, Ollie is seeking an emergency injunction in U.S. District Court to continue to allow him to take such a measure.

“It’s unfortunate that the University of Connecticut has forced us to seek federal court intervention to protect Kevin’s right to file a claim of discrimination after we go to arbitration,” said Ollie’s attorney Jacques Parenteau. “There is no good reason for the University of Connecticut to refuse to cooperate with us on this.”

A hearing will be held Dec. 28 in Bridgeport — one day after Ollie’s 45th birthday.

“I can’t understand why they would not agree,” Parenteau said. “It does them no harm whatsoever to say, ‘If you have this right, we’ll just waive it until after the arbitration.’ It’s just to be punitive, or, as we allege, retaliatory.”

According to the injunction request dated Dec. 17, Ollie is claiming “disparate treatment” against him compared to white coaches at UConn, including Jim Calhoun. The document notes that Calhoun was found to have violated NCAA rules after investigations in 2011 and 2012 that were more severe than what Ollie was accused of doing. Instead of being fired, the document states, Calhoun was paid more than $1.9 million between 2012 (when he retired) and September 2018.

Ollie contends that this proves he has been discriminated against on the basis of race and color, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act.

According to Article 10.3 of the CBA between Ollie’s union, the American Association of University Professors, and UConn, if a union member seeks to resolve a matter in any other forum while a grievance proceeding is still taking place, UConn has no obligation to proceed with the grievance procedure. Ollie would have to wait until after the arbitration process is complete.

Ollie’s lawyers contend that invoking this provision prevents Ollie from filing a discrimination claim before statute of limitations expire. The deadline to file with the CHRO was Dec. 17 — 180 days after Ollie received a June 19 letter from UConn president Susan Herbst upholding the decision by athletic director David Benedict to terminate his employment. Ollie can file a case with the EEOC as early as Jan. 4, 2019.

In the document, Ollie’s lawyers say they met with Nicole Gelston, general counsel of UConn, and Gabriel Jiran, outside counsel representing UConn in this process, on Oct. 30 and asked the school to allow Ollie to file his discrimination case. Two weeks later, Ollie’s counsel proposed an agreement to extend the time to file with the CHRO and/or EEOC to 30 days following the completion of arbitration.

Jiran denied the time extension on Dec. 4. On Dec. 12, according to the document, Jiran informed Ollie’s lawyers that UConn would not bring the CHRO/EEOC matter to the arbitrator. On Sunday, Jiran said he would not agree not to invoke Article 10.3 of the CBA.

Ollie is seeking to recoup the nearly $11 million that was remaining on his contract at the time he was fired on March 10. Along with the allegations of racial discrimination, Ollie continues to contend that he was fired without “just cause.”

UConn claims Ollie violated several NCAA rules during his six seasons as UConn’s head coach, from shooting baskets with a prospective recruit to allowing illicit workouts between his players and trainers and setting up a phone call between a recruit and Hall of Famer Ray Allen, a former UConn star.

A popular UConn guard in the early 1990s, Ollie spent 13 years in the NBA before returning to Storrs as an assistant under Calhoun. He became head coach in 2012 and won an NCAA title in his second season, but UConn went 30-35 and failed to earn postseason tournament spots in Olllie’s last two seasons.

In a statement issued by UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz on Tuesday, the school contends the dismissal was justified.

“As UConn has stated from the outset, the university terminated Kevin Ollie’s employment due to violations of NCAA rules, pursuant to his employment agreement,” Reitz said. “Any claim to the contrary is without merit.”

Ollie and the university appear to be nowhere near the beginning of their arbitration process. According to Parenteau, the sides are still trying to agree on the ground rules that would govern the process, which aren’t clear in the CBA. They also may have to go to court to have other questions resolved — e.g., Ollie’s right to cross-examine witnesses against him.

Parenteau added that Ollie’s side has offered “on many occasions” to bring in a private mediator to help settle the matter, but UConn has refused.

“Hopefully the parties can come to an amicable settlement,” Parenteau said. “Kevin Ollie has done so much for the University of Connecticut, the state of Connecticut all these years. To treat him this way is really a darn shame.”

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