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Former EWU soccer coach alleges discrimination in latest complaint against school’s athletic program

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 17, 2021

Chad Bodnar, then-head coach of the women’s soccer team at Eastern Washington University, watches players practice Oct. 31, 2017.  (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)
Chad Bodnar, then-head coach of the women’s soccer team at Eastern Washington University, watches players practice Oct. 31, 2017. (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)

Former Eastern Washington University soccer coach Chad Bodnar is seeking no less than $5 million in damages from the school for alleged discrimination, he confirmed Friday.

The claim, filed last summer with the Washington State Human Rights Commission, alleges Bodnar faced discrimination because of his age and his “efforts to report sex discrimination pursuant to Title IX.”

Bodnar, 43, also claims that EWU Athletic Director Lynn Hickey had publicly commented on her desire to terminate Bodnar after he returned from medical leave in the fall of 2020.

The claim states EWU and Hickey “have a clear pattern and practice of refusing to hire, discharging and/or treating older coaching staff disparately,” which culminated with Bodnar’s termination on May 10.

Responding to an email request for comment, Hickey said Friday afternoon that “I cannot make a comment regarding legal issues.”

The 29-page document’s salient claim is that “as a result of his unlawful termination, Coach Bodnar has suffered damages including but not limited to back pay, front pay, emotional distress and pain and suffering, and the loss of substantial benefits.”

Bodnar is represented by attorney Alexandria Drake, from the Spokane law firm of Dunn & Black, the same firm that earlier this year filed a $5 million claim for wrongful dismissal by former EWU women’s basketball Coach Wendy Schuller.

The two claims have common themes. Both allege that since being hired as athletic director in the spring of 2018, Hickey and the university have consistently allocated greater resources and opportunities to EWU’s men’s teams and male athletes, prioritizing them over and at the expense of EWU’s women’s athletic programs, female athletes and female students.

“This pattern and practice of discrimination against EWU’s female athletes was manifested in the unequal hiring practices, budgets, athlete care, training and safety resources provided to EWU’s female athletes as compared to its male athletes,” Bodnar’s claim alleges.

The 2 document states a particular “point of contention” between Hickey and Bodnar in the months leading up to termination was his stated opposition to Hickey’s alleged practice of prioritizing the football and men’s basketball teams in the scheduling and use of the university’s weightlifting facilities.

“This left EWU’s women’s sports teams with only intermittent access to the weightlifting facilities, during times that often conflicted with the players’ academic schedules or meal times,” the claim states.

The claim continues: “Coach Bodnar repeatedly complained about this discriminatory practice to Hickey and EWU’s administration, even going so far as to report the issue to EWU’s Title IX coordinator. However, Hickey was undeterred, and in response to his complaints, Coach Bodnar was subjected to such pervasive bullying and retaliation by Hickey and football coach Aaron Best that no other EWU coaches were comfortable speaking out for fear that they would face the same fate.”

Similar complaints were launched at this year’s NCAA Tournament in San Antonio, with a social media post going viral after it showed the difference between the men’s and women’s weightlifting facilities.

Bodnar, with the most wins in program history, led the Eagles to a pair of NCAA Tournament berths and a seven-year record of 73-44-15.

He was replaced by former Air Force assistant coach Missy Strasburg. The Eagles went 5-12 overall and 3-6 in the Big Sky Conference this fall.

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