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Former EWU women’s basketball coach accuses AD Hickey of discrimination, downplaying abusive behavior in $5M claim

June 18, 2021 Updated Sat., June 19, 2021 at 4:42 p.m.

Then-EWU head coach Wendy Schuller draws up a play during a second-half timeout, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Cheney, Wash.  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Then-EWU head coach Wendy Schuller draws up a play during a second-half timeout, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Cheney, Wash. (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Wendy Schuller, Eastern Washington University’s former women’s basketball coach who was fired in late March, has filed a tort claim to the state Department of Enterprise Services claiming she was unlawfully terminated by the university.

EWU declined to comment on Schuller’s filing, which alleges unlawful employment practices rooted partly in age and gender discrimination by EWU Athletics Director Lynn Hickey over the years the two worked together. Schuller, who was hired as the head women’s basketball coach in 2001, was replaced in May by former Seattle University associate head coach Joddie Gleason.

The filing makes arguments that Schuller was terminated not only on the basis of her age and gender, but also on the grounds that she attempted to report allegations of domestic violence and threatening behavior involving football players, pursuant to Title IX regulations.

Schuller, who has retained attorney Bob Dunn in the dispute, posted an overall record of 277-322 over her 20 seasons as coach, including a 166-169 record in Big Sky Conference play. She had one year left on her contract.

The filing further claims Schuller was given less pay than her male counterparts. The claim is seeking no less than $5 million in damages from the state, citing pay disparities, emotional distress and the loss of substantial benefits.

In a specific example, the tort claim alleges that Hickey told Schuller in 2018 “not to bother” applying for the position of senior woman administrator despite her qualifications. The university instead hired Sarah Adams, which the filing describes as a younger, less-experienced candidate.

The filing also references the dismissal of former EWU soccer coach Chad Bodnar, who was fired last month, claiming Hickey actively and publicly commented on her desire to terminate Bodnar.

The filing claims Hickey prioritized men’s athletics over women’s, which manifested in “unequal hiring practices, budgets, athletic care, training and safety resources.”

After the women’s basketball team lost two assistant coaches last summer, according to the claim, Hickey allegedly prohibited Schuller from filling those spots until mid-October as team practices started. The filing contrasts that to January , when Hickey allegedly allowed EWU football coach Aaron Best to immediately rehire for vacant assistant coaching positions.

The filing further accuses Hickey of sweeping claims involving threatening behavior exhibited by members of EWU’s football team under the rug to protect the university’s football players.

According to the claim, Schuller reported in February 2019 domestic violence allegations involving an EWU football player.

A female basketball player, concerned about a friend who was dating the football player in question, reported her concerns to Schuller, showing her social media posts and a video that appeared to describe and/or show the alleged abuse, according to the filing.

Schuller allegedly reported the incident to Hickey, who said she would “take care of it.”

“The posts at issue depicting the alleged abuse were subsequently suspiciously scrubbed from social media websites,” the claim states.

In December , the women’s basketball team’s trainer overheard two players discussing Snapchat posts mentioning rape that were posted by certain EWU players, according to the claim. The trainer and the assistant trainer reportedly questioned the players on the posts before reporting them to the EWU Title IX office.

After that, however, the players who reported the posts were confronted by some EWU football players, instructing the basketball players not to say anything further, according to the claim. The women’s basketball players then reportedly sent letters to the Title IX office advising they were unwilling to participate in an investigation on the posts, though one player allegedly contacted Schuller to explain her reticence.

Schuller reported this to Hickey, according to the filing.

“Hickey further dismissed the football players’ shocking posts discussing and joking about committing sexual assault as nothing more than kids just ‘being immature and joking around’ on social media,” the filing reads.

The claim goes on to describe the alleged circumstances of Schuller’s dismissal.

Hickey reportedly refused to give Schuller a performance review over a two-year period until mid-March, when Hickey allegedly reached out to Schuller about a performance review that was rescheduled to March 31. On that day, Schuller was given her termination letter.

The university publicly announced Schuller’s dismissal that day.

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