Coach Marlene Stollings’ ‘Request’ for Reinstatement as Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Texas Tech is Granted – Well, Almost

May 20, 2022

By Professor Robert J. Romano, JD LLM, St. John’s University, Senior Writer

On October 20, 2020, former head women’s basketball Coach Marlene Stollings filed a lawsuit against her previous employer, Texas Tech University in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas – Lubbock Division, claiming that she was wronged, discriminated against, and victimized by the University, the University’s Athletic Department and its Athletic Director, Kirby Hocutt after she was terminated for cause on August 6, 2020.

In her initial complaint, Coach Stollings alleged various causes of action including breach of contract, fraud, fraudulent inducement, defamation, and sex discrimination in violation of the right to equal protection as under the U.S. Constitution and in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. Section 1681 et seq. All of Coach Stollings’ allegations were predicated on a belief that her dismissal was “based on discriminatory biases against female coaches and that Texas Tech, and in particular Mr. Hocutt, regularly penalized female coaches for employing the same demanding and effective coaching techniques that male coaches utilize and utilized without consequence.”[i]

As standard procedure, the defendants collectively moved to dismiss its former coach’s complaint and in August 2021, the District Court granted their motion as for the breach of contract, fraud, and fraud in the inducements counts, finding that Texas Tech University, as a public university, enjoys the benefit of sovereign immunity.[ii] The District Court, however, denied the motion with regards to the Title VII and Title IX claims.

As for the Title VII count, the District Court held that Coach Stollings’ assertions that Texas Tech engaged in discriminatory conduct, evidenced by “lower pay, worse treatment, a hostile environment, disparate treatment, and, ultimately, unjustifiable termination” [iii] were sufficient to demonstrate less favorable treatment. The District Court also concluded that the former coach was engaged in protected activity when she reported various Title IX violations and that there was a causal connection between this protected activity and her termination.

Coach Stollings subsequently filed an amended complaint nearly identical to her initial complaint except for the addition of a Section 1983 claim against Mr. Hocutt.[iv] Her amended complaint also added two more prayers for relief in which she asked for an injunction, specific performance, and other equitable relief requiring Hocutt to “retract or otherwise to rescind the decision to terminate Coach Stollings’ Employment Agreement for cause” and “to retract and otherwise correct [his] defamatory and defamatory per se statements.”[v]

After the defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss the amended complaint, the District Court, on March 18, 2022, again rejected Coach Stollings’s state-law claims, state-law-based relief claims, and monetary-damages claim under Section 1983 for the same reasons it stated in its previous ruling.[vi] Notably, however, the District Court did find that Coach Stollings had sufficiently pled her claim for reinstatement since such fell within an exception to the sovereign-immunity bar which allows state employees to request reinstatement in a suit against a state official in the context of a Section 1983 claim.[vii]

Interestingly, however, after the District Court found that Coach Stollings sufficiently pled her reinstatement claim, it also found that since the head coach position at Texas Tech is “currently occupied” and that there is “ample proof of acrimony between Coach Stollings and Texas Tech University, reinstatement would not be plausible or appropriate in this matter.”[viii]

As a result of the District Court’s ruling, Coach Stollings will be allowed to move forward with her claims against Texas Tech. But, as stated by this author in a previous article, is Coach Stollings really the party that has been wronged in this situation? It needs to be clear that Coach Stollings’ employment contract with Texas Tech was terminated on August 6, 2020, one day after USA Today published its article entitled Texas Tech women’s basketball players describe toxic culture: ‘Fear, anxiety and depression’.[ix] As reported by USA Today, a number of current and former Texas Tech University players alleged that the women’s basketball program under Stollings amounted to a ‘culture of abuse’, describing it as a toxic atmosphere which resulted in twelve players leaving the program. Some of the reported claims include:

  • Admonishment of a student-athlete for displaying symptoms of depression, an illness in which the student-athlete was eventually diagnosed.
  • Allegations by five players that strength and conditioning coach Ralph Petrella sexually harassed them and other female players, making suggestive comments to one and using a therapy technique that involved applying pressure to some players’ chests, pubic bones, and groins.[x]
  • Retaliation by Coach Stollings and other coaches against three players after they brought abuse claims to school officials.[xi]

So, the question again remains, even though Coach Stollings will not be reinstated as head women’s basketball coach, the District Court did find that she could continue pursuing her claims against Texas Tech University, is justice being served?

[i] Marlene Stollings vs. Texas Tech University and Kirby Hocutt, Federal Civil Action No. 5:20-cv-250

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48318 *; 2022 WL 824842

[v] Count XIII and the corresponding prayers for relief are clearly designed to exploit the Ex parte Young state-officer exception for equitable relief.

[vi] Id.

[vii] U.S. v. Nelson, 535 F.3d 318, at 324 (2008).

[viii] 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48318 *; 2022 WL 824842,. See, Overman v. City of E. Baton Rouge, 132 F. Supp. 3d 753, 761 (M.D. La. 2015) which held that reinstatement is inappropriate when a terminated employee has found other employment, has been replaced and reinstatement would have an unacceptable adverse effect on the replacement, where the parties have stipulated that reinstatement is not feasible or appropriate, and where there is antagonism between the terminated employee and the former employer.

[ix] USA TODAY Sports collaborated with The Intercollegiate, a college sports investigative media outlet that obtained Texas Tech’s exit interviews with players from the past two seasons via public records requests. In addition to reviewing those documents, USA TODAY Sports interviewed 10 players, two former assistant coaches and two parents about the program. Six of the players spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

[x] Coach Petrella, who denies any misconduct, resigned in March 2020.


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