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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former EWU women’s basketball coach alleges age, gender discrimination in lawsuit against school

Former Eastern Washington University basketball coach Wendy Schuller sits in the officer of her attorney Alexandria Drake at the firm of Dunn & Black in this July 2021 photo.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A former Eastern Washington University women’s basketball coach has filed a now-federal discrimination lawsuit against the school, alleging unfair treatment of her program compared to men’s athletics, wage discrepancies between sports and athletic department deference to the football program in investigations of misconduct.

Wendy Schuller, who coached the team from June 2001 to March 2021, filed her claims against EWU and Athletic Director Lynn Hickey in Spokane County Superior Court last month and is seeking at least $5 million in damages. On Friday, the lawsuit was moved to U.S. District Court in Spokane at the request of the Washington Attorney General’s Office, which is representing EWU against the discrimination claims because it is a state institution.

“This is a woman who spent 20 years doing this, coaching professionally,” said Alexandria Drake, an attorney at the Spokane firm Dunn & Black who is representing Schuller. “She loved this, she was good at it, and it was ripped away from her by this university in the worst possible way.”

The 40-page complaint repeats many of the allegations Schuller forwarded in a tort claim against the university and Hickey in June 2021, shortly after the university announced Schuller’s firing with a year left on her contract. That includes allegations that Hickey and the athletic department did not adequately investigate a Title IX complaint Schuller made in February 2019, when one of her athletes reported a friend had been involved in a domestic violence incident with a football player. Schuller said she was retaliated against for reporting the incident, which she’s required to do by state law.

Through a spokesman, the university declined to comment on the specific allegations in the complaint.

“EWU takes all matters and allegations such as these very seriously,” the statement, in response to an inquiry about the domestic violence incident, reads, “however we are not able to provide additional comment on pending litigation.”

The lawsuit alleges Schuller’s working conditions started to decline after Hickey’s hiring as athletic director in April 2018. Schuller alleges she was overlooked for a position in the department, that her requests during the COVID-19 pandemic for safe travel on buses was denied and that preferential treatment was given to men’s teams for times in the weight training facilities.

Since the filing of the tort claim, part of the process necessary to initiate a lawsuit, Drake said they’ve learned that other coaches in the department were making similar complaints to Hickey about the treatment of female athletes. In addition, the lawsuit alleges Schuller’s firing came just a couple of days after Hickey received the results of a Title IX audit of athletics at the university that included the concerns Schuller brought forward about the treatment of female athletes.

“It really drives home that something seriously wrong was done to Coach Schuller,” Drake said. “Not just to her, but to her players.”

The case has been assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge James Goeke. No hearing dates had been set as of Tuesday afternoon. Hickey has announced she will retire when her contract ends April 30.