By Ellen J. Staurowsky, Ed.D., Senior Writer & Professor, Sport Management, Drexel University, email@example.com
In Cameron Stolz v. Minnesota State College & University System and Dakota County Technical College (2016), a former employee who held multiple roles as an athletic coordinator, faculty member, and soccer coach alleged that he had been wrongfully terminated after raising concerns about misconduct on the part of another head coach and a failure to comply with Title IX. In suing his former employer, DCTC, which is a part of the MnSCU System, he sought to recover damages for back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, damages for emotional distress, and damages to reputation resulting from the retaliatory treatment to which Stolz was allegedly subjected to.
At the time of Mr. Stolz’s hire in 2002, the athletic department was in the very early stages of its development. Wrestling, as the first varsity sport to be offered at DCTC, was launched in 2000. Two years later, Mr. Stolz was initially hired to develop and coach the women’s soccer team. Within a year, his role expanded to include coaching both the men’s and women’s soccer teams.
According to Mr. Stolz’s complaint, he designed and created the curriculum for associate and transfer degree programs in exercise and sport science as well as sport management. He also oversaw the expansion of resources to support athletic teams, seeking out and fostering relationships with local governments as well as corporate sponsors, including Pepsi Co. and Hilton. As an indicator of his stature among his peers, he served as a regional representative for the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) and was recognized with the NJCAA Regional Coach of the Year Award in 2009. His teams garnered national NJCAA rankings on a perennial basis.
By 2008, Mr. Stoltz received a promotion that resulted in his transition from a hybrid faculty/ administrative position to a full faculty line, which carried with it a formal designation as athletic coordinator. While he continued to coach men’s and women’s soccer and teach sport management courses, his administrative role in athletics changed. As the athletic coordinator, he was charged to focus his energies on ensuring that the day-to-day operations of the program ran smoothly and providing the vision for the continuing evolution of the program. Personnel, however, most specifically coaches no longer reported to Stolz but to an administrator responsible for human resources and budget management. He also was no longer overseeing the athletic department budget.
Under his leadership, the DCTC athletic department transitioned from NJCAA Division III to Division II. As part of that growth phase, he played a key leadership role in working alongside city authorities to fund and build a $3 million soccer complex used by campus and community constituencies. In February of 2010, he took the lead in overseeing efforts to add women’s volleyball and men’s basketball and served as co-chair of an athletics task force to develop a plan for further growth in program, budget, and revenue streams.
Mr. Stolz’s Efforts to Report Title IX Violations and Other Forms of Alleged Misconduct
In the spring of 2012, Mr. Stolz, who was responsible for putting together the institution’s federally mandated report under Title IX that documents the gender breakdown of resources within an athletic department (an EADA report), believed more funds were being allocated to men’s programs, resulting in a growing disparity between the men’s and women’s programs. In terms of capital projects, DCTC’s president, Ron Thomas, prioritized the building of a new baseball facility despite the fact the field the softball players used was deteriorating and in need of significant upgrades. Operationally, men’s programs received proportionally higher rates of funding for recruiting, travel budgets, promotions, out-of-season coach stipends, and funding for awards banquets. Female athletes were alleged to have been further denied the opportunity at times to even practice their sport.
The route Mr. Stoltz followed to educate DCTC administrators about potential Title IX violations included several meetings in April of 2012 with the dean of student affairs and the president. In the absence of a response to his concerns, he moved on to a meeting with the director of human resources who was also designated as the human rights officer. There, too, his attempts met with no response.
Mr. Stolz alleged that it was after those meetings that he started to experience an increasingly hostile environment in the workplace. He points to his exclusion from meetings with campus administrators that he had once been invited to. He reported that the administrative assistant assigned to him was relocated and no efforts were made to replace that person. In contrast to other employees who were recognized for meeting ten years of service at the institution, his decade of service went unrecognized. And he claimed administrators were dismissive and rude when interacting with him.
By July of 2012, Mr. Stolz moved forward to file an anonymous complaint with the MnSCU vice chancellor’s office, which detailed his concerns about DCTC’s shortfalls in the area of Title IX compliance and included other misconduct that he perceived was happening at DCTC. As the months passed without a response to his numerous complaints, he was confronted with the prospect of completing DCTC’s EADA report for submission in October of 2012. He claimed that due to his complaint with the MnSCU chancellor’s office, he was denied access he needed to fully complete that report. The fact that the human resource officer at DCTC knew about his anonymous complaint with the state system was taken by him as a violation of the assurances given to whistleblowers that they would be protected when participating in the reporting process.
As evidence that he was facing retaliation, Mr. Stolz asserted in his complaint that DCTC officials in November of 2012 wrongly decided to prevent him from teaching sport management courses in the curriculum that he had designed because he was not sufficiently qualified. Meetings in December of 2012 with DCTC’s president and dean of student affairs again yielded no results and further solidified to Mr. Stoltz that administrators were not fully aware of Title IX’s requirements.
In early January of 2013, the list of issues extended beyond Title IX violations. He harbored a belief that the baseball coach was engaging in financial mismanagement and fraud, an allegation that the complaint notes led to the deactivation of the coach’s credit card by the dean of student affairs. At the urging of the dean of students, Stoltz documented the Title IX violations that existed and other areas of mismanagement. In so doing, he wrote about the lack of institutional control of the athletics department which manifest in DCTC’s president, Ron Thomas, being a party to manipulations of athlete eligibility and enrollment. Shortly thereafter, in February of 2013, Mr. Stoltz claims he was told that the institution was in the process of searching for a new athletic director and that while he could remain at the school and coach, he was urged to consider finding another job. As per Stoltz’s complaint, the job description as advertised outlined responsibilities identical to the ones he fulfilled with the requirement that successful applicants hold a master’s degree, a credential that he did not have.
Mr. Stoltz’s Argument That He Was the Target of Retaliation
Troubles associated with the management of the athletic program continued to be identified by Mr. Stolz through the early part of 2013. Concerns arose that federal work study money was being used to pay baseball players to work at a private business owned by the head coach. Repeated efforts to inform administrators met with little action. However, less than a week after Mr. Stoltz submitted a written complaint to a DCTC vice president, President Ron Thomas resigned. By April of 2013, Mr. Stoltz pursued matters through the MnSCU office of internal auditing. Within weeks, the DCTC baseball coach was fired, the search for a new athletic director had been cancelled, and arrangements were made for the softball team to play on a better field for the upcoming season.
As a new academic year got underway in July of 2013, with new interim president Tim Wynes at the DCTC helm, expectations regarding Mr. Stoltz changed and his contract was to be handled directly by President Wynes rather than academic officers who handled such matters. After working without a contract for some period of time, Mr. Stoltz was informed by the human resources director, in a meeting with academic officers, that his load was being reduced from 26 to 18 credits (effectively a 30% reduction in load that resulted in a reduction in pay). Working through his union, Mr. Stoltz was able to have his assignment returned to its original 26 credit load with his pay restored.
The ensuing months produced other challenges from Mr. Stoltz’s perspective. The ongoing investigation from the MnSCU auditor’s office required the creation of an athletics task force at DCTC to explore issues raised in Mr. Stoltz’s complaint, one that was conditioned upon his status as an anonymous reporter. Initially, Mr. Stoltz was appointed to that task force in November of 2013 but was eventually removed after the DCTC’s chief financial officer allegedly announced to the group that one of its members was a whistleblower. This announcement was allegedly met with resignations from the faculty senator who declared that they did not wish to serve if a whistleblower was on the committee while the human resources officer expressed a belief that a new athletic coordinator was needed. According to Stoltz, these declarations resulted in him being asked by President Wynes to temporarily step down from the task force. In so doing, in Mr. Stoltz’s view, he had been outed as the whistleblower. He eventually returned to the task force, experiencing harassment and embarrassment throughout the process.
In March of 2014, Mr. Stoltz was confronted once again with an effort to alter his contracted assignment. After serving the institution for 13 years with workloads that constituted a full-time equivalency (FTE) or exceeded an FTE, he was given a contract that was reduced to a .82 FTE. Mr. Stoltz alleged that his request to be permitted to teach the courses he had designed and had taught previously to elevate his position back to that of a full-time was not approved and that the person who was hired to teach those courses was the husband of the director of student life and athletics administrator. Negotiations around his contract included questions regarding his status as a full-time faculty member and his eligibility for a tenured position.
In January of 2015, Mr. Stoltz was informed that his status had been changed to that of a part-time employee. As a consequence, he was no longer eligible for employment benefits. Two months later, in March of 2015, Mr. Stoltz was informed that his position as athletics coordinator was being eliminated with his responsibilities parsed out to other coaches. He subsequently found out that the athletic coordinator role assignment was given to the head men’s basketball coach. With the change in his faculty classification and elimination of his role as athletics coordinator, Mr. Stoltz’s remaining assignment was that of men’s soccer coach, a position that was credited at a .34 workload.
As he pursued appeals to the personnel decisions affecting his status as a full-time employee, he took his concerns regarding Title IX violations and the alleged acts of retaliation directed at him to the chair of the MnSCU trustees. This resulted in his case being brought to the attention of the head of human resources for the MnSCU. While a review of Mr. Stoltz’s 2013 report was underway, it was discovered that sections of the report were missing.
Filing of a Title IX Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights & Termination
Having explored all available avenues with the MnSCU system to deal with the alleged inequitable treatment of female athletes at DCTC and the retaliation he was experiencing, Mr. Stoltz proceeded to file a complaint with the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in April of 2015 which prompted an investigation several months later. Between the time campus authorities were made aware of the OCR investigation and its ongoing execution into the fall of 2015, Mr. Stoltz’s employment situation worsened. DCTC allegedly attempted to block a request by Mr. Stoltz to receive unemployment benefits. He cited the timing of conversations with the administrator in charge of student life and athletics as designed to discourage full candor with OCR investigators regarding the state of affairs in the athletic program and to threaten Mr. Stoltz’s employment. The public firing of Mr. Stoltz’s assistant coach just days before the team’s regional quarterfinals was perceived as another step in the ongoing effort to make Mr. Stoltz’s job more difficult and to affect his job performance. Mr. Stoltz was then notified that he was the subject of an investigation, the notification coming the same week OCR investigators were conducting interviews on campus. Several months later, Mr. Stoltz was informed that his contract to coach men’s soccer would not be renewed and his relationship with the institution would end with that contract.
Whistleblower Case Filed in 2016 & Settled in 2019
After his termination, Mr. Stoltz sought relief under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act (Minn. Stat.§ 181.932), breach of contract for denial of tenure status, breach of contract for unpaid wages, failure to pay wages promptly (Minn. Stat. § 181.13); failure to produce a copy of the personnel file (Minn. Stat.
§ 181.961); and retaliatory failure to produce a copy of the personnel file (Minn. Stat. § 181.964). In April of 2019, Mr. Stoltz settled with MnSCU and DCTC for $100,000 representing payment for non-wage damages ($49,662) and attorneys’ fees and costs. The parties further agreed to review Mr. Stoltz’s work history pertaining to the credit load documented in his personnel file to determine if the reporting was in error. A correction of the personnel file, however, is at the sole discretion of DCTC and with an agreement that Stoltz is not entitled to any further compensation. The expressed reason for the settlement was to avoid further costs associated with litigation and further risk of litigation.
Those familiar with whistleblower cases will find a familiar narrative in Mr. Stoltz’s lawsuit. The attention to timelines, events, and personnel decisions as represented in the complaint paint a picture of an employee who sought to do the right thing but was navigating in a compromised environment. The special investigation undertaken in 2013 by MnSCU revealed that then President, Ron Thomas, exerted what was described as an “inordinate amount of influence” over the athletic department and directly overseeing its operation. According to Christopher Magan (2016), a local reporter for the Pioneer Press, “…the athletic department had a ‘culture of bypassing budgetary expectations and procedural requirements”. At the time President Thomas resigned, the internal investigation noted that there were “irregularities in spending and bookkeeping for the DCTC Foundation” and “poor oversight of sports fees and fundraising” (Magan, 2016).
Lending credibility to the timing of Mr. Stoltz’s complaint in 2012, an examination of athletically-related financial aid allocations as publicly reported in the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA) report starting in 2007 (the first year DCTC reported offering grants-in-aid) through 2017, there is an abrupt shift that does occur in 2012. During the first five years, female athletes received more money in the form of athletic scholarships than male athletes. In real dollars, the discrepancy in allocation between female and male athletes ranged from $0 to $5,145 with the average being $2,311. In 2012, the total amount of athletically-related financial aid more than doubled from $42,312 to $87,667, with the gap favoring male athletes by $28,133. That shift is also seen in the revenue allocations where the baseball programs budget increased by more than $77,000 during that time period while volleyball’s budget was reduced by $27,000. Other claims are not as strong, however. For example, although Stoltz alleged that more money was being spent on recruiting male athletes, that is not born out in the EADA report. That said, EADA reports are not always accurate and given the internal investigations finding that there were irregularities in bookkeeping and spending, it is possible that the data in the EADA report warrants greater scrutiny.
Lingering questions, however, remain about this case. The results of the Title IX investigation by the Office for Civil Rights have not yet been released. Thus, there may be more to learn in the future.
Dakota County Technical College History. (n.d.). https://www.dctc.edu/about-us/history/
Dakota County Technical College. Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act Reports (2003-2017).
Magan, C. (2016, June 17). Mismanagement and retaliation alleged at Dakota County Technical College. Pioneer Press.
Cameron Stoltz v. Minnesota State Colleges & University System and Dakota County Technical College (2016). Case File No: 62-CV-16-3718.
Cameron Stoltz v. Minnesota State Colleges & University System and Dakota County Technical College. (2019, April 15). Settlement.
Verges, J. (2018, April 18). Retiring head of two Dakota County colleges, with lawsuits pending, is finalist for Illinois jobs. Pioneer Press.
1. Based on EADA reports, wrestling was offered at DCTC for four years, from 2002-2003 through 2005-2006.
2. According to EADA reports filed every year between 2003-2004 and 2017-2018, the DCTC athletic department held multiple division affiliations within the NJCAA. Men’s and women’s soccer were listed as being in NJCAA Division I from 2002-2003 through 2010-2011 while the rest of the athletic department was listed as NJCAA Division III. In 2011-2012 the affiliation shifted for the entire athletic department and all programs were listed as NJCAA Division II.