Former Women’s Soccer Coach Sues Winthrop, Alleges Gender Discrimination

Dec 3, 2010

By Jacqueline Sudano, Esq.
Former Winthrop University Women’s Soccer Coach Melissa Heinz has filed a federal complaint against the school, claiming that Winthrop administrators – including President Anthony DiGiorgio, Athletic Director Tom Hickman and Men’s Soccer Coach Rich Posipanko — resented her for championing gender equity, which resulted in the school’s decision not to renew her contract.
Specifically, Heinz claimed that the university fired female coaches in favor of men and paid female coaches less than their similarly qualified male counterparts. The complaint also alleged that Posipanko was paid 27 percent more than Heinz. Her salary upon dismissal was $47,000, making her one of the lowest-paid women’s coaches in the Big South Conference at the time.
Among the school’s stated reasons for firing Heinz, who was the Big South Conference Coach of The Year in 2006, was that the team failed to win the conference tournament.
Now coaching soccer at Georgia’s Valdosta State University, Heinz claims that her dismissal from Winthrop has hindered her ability to obtain another Division I coaching position.
According to the complaint, Winthrop allegedly failed to meet federally mandated gender equity standards, including: “Providing equal practice times and facilities; travel expenses; coaching assignments and pay; facilities and equipment; medical and training services; publicity by the school about the program; providing support staff and use of scholarship money.” The complaint alleges that the women’s soccer players stayed in lower-quality hotels at away games, and slept three to five players per room, while the men’s soccer team slept two players per room. These allegations were substantiated by two former Winthrop women’s soccer players, who were interviewed by The Rock Hill Herald on November 28, and said that “the women usually had three players to a room, but at times, four and five players stayed in a room.”
“Coach Heinz persistently documented her complaints about disparate treatment in letters and e-mails addressing inadequate budgets, lack of publicity, lack of staffing comparable to the men’s teams and the inequities in summer camps,” according to court papers. “Her requests for gender equity were ignored or rejected by Winthrop, Dr. DiGiorgio, and A.D. Hickman.”
Another claim that Heinz alleges is the university’s refusal to allow her to supplement her income with soccer camp programs, an activity that Posipanko was allowed to engage in and, Heinz claimed, brought him “tens of thousands of dollars annually.”
To date, Winthrop University and the individual defendants have not been served and have declined to comment on the suit to several news sources, until they receive official notice.


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