A University of Montana strength coach was fired after complaining to his supervisor that a male staff member was harassing a woman on his staff, according to the complaint he filed with Montana Human Rights Bureau.
“The male staff member engaged in derogatory, sexually explicit and demeaning jokes, remarks and comments as well as racially derogatory jokes and remarks,” according to the complaint amended last month by Scott Kirchmann.
The complaint is the most recent allegation to surface on a campus roiled by sexual assault allegations that have spurred two federal investigations, including one into reports of harassment by members of the Grizzlies football team.
Kirchmann’s complaint said he emailed his supervisor, Jean Gee – who at the time was senior associate athletic director – on Oct. 9 about the harassment issue.
The next day, Gee and athletic director Jim O’Day told Kirchmann his contract would not be renewed, even though he’d received a positive evaluation a month earlier, and his contract had been renewed since 2008, the complaint said.
“Scott Kirchmann believes that his contract was not renewed and he was forced into administrative leave and away from the work he loved and students he enjoyed working with because he opposed the sexual harassment of his staff, reported the sexual harassment to his supervisor and requested that an investigation be undertaken,” it said.
On Tuesday, Associate Commissioner of Higher Education Kevin McRae said that “we deny the charges, and we’re confident the evidence will show the university has acted responsibly.”
McRae pointed out that Kirchmann, UM’s director of athletic performance, substantially changed his complaint after first filing it in March. Kirchmann did not return a call seeking comment on Tuesday.
In both complaints, Kirchmann said he went on medical leave on Oct. 10, 2011, for neck surgery. His initial complaint also mentioned that his son had heart surgery in December.
Both complaints said he notified the university in January that he’d return to work Feb. 1.
The March complaint said Gee notified Kirchmann Jan. 31 that he was being replaced on administrative leave because of his neck condition and his son’s medical problems. At the time, Kirchmann wrote that he thought he’d been placed on leave “because of my disability/perceived disability and my association with my son, who has a disability.”
The May complaint says that on Jan. 30, UM placed him on administrative leave from Feb. 1 through the end of his contract on June 30, even though he was physically able to return to work.
“It is clear that the university did not want Scott Kirchmann around the campus to continue to report the sexual harassment,” the amended complaint said.
“Whichever story he picks, we’re confident the evidence supports neither one,” McRae said.
Kirchmann’s initial complaint was filed March 29, the same day that UM was rocked by the firings of football coach Robin Pflugrad and athletic director O’Day. Gee has since been appointed interim athletic director.
President Royce Engstrom has given no reason for the firings, other than saying he wanted change. The NCAA notified UM in January that its football program is under investigation, though the reason remains unspecified.
In addition, the federal departments of Justice and Education are investigating how UM handles sexual assault cases.
Six months ago, UM launched an investigation into allegations of two gang rapes involving students. That investigation eventually grew to include 11 sexual assault allegations, some of them reportedly involving football players. One football player has been charged with sexual intercourse without consent; the Missoula County Attorney’s Office is determining whether charges will be filed against another accused of rape.
The Human Rights Bureau has 180 days to investigate a complaint. If it finds a complaint has merit, it can order action to remedy the situation.
Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, firstname.lastname@example.org or @CopsAndCourts on Twitter.