Boston College is embroiled in a legal dispute with its former longtime women’s soccer coach, Alison Foley, who claims the school unjustly forced her out by discriminating against her based on her gender and by retaliating against her for complaining about gender inequities in BC athletics.
Foley, who in 22 years on the job became BC’s most successful women’s soccer coach, abruptly resigned in 2018 after her team finished 14-5-1, ranked in the Top 20 nationally. She alleges she was given the choice to resign or be terminated.
“BC chose to fire a great coach because she advocated for gender equality on behalf of herself, her program, and her student-athletes, in an effort to silence her and others who might bring concerns forward,” her lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court in 2020, alleges.
The case was first reported by BC’s student newspaper, The Heights.
BC denies the allegations. The school states in court documents that in 2015 it gave Foley a multi-year contract, “a benefit that was not widely available to other coaches,” and chose not to renew her subsequent one-year contract in 2018 after her team “complained en masse about Foley to BC administrators.”
BC said in a statement to the Globe Wednesday, “Boston College did not renew Alison Foley’s contract because of complaints from student-athletes about her inappropriate treatment of members of the team, and she was informed of these issues when the season ended. She and her attorneys have made false charges about compensation and coaching contracts. The University denies that gender bias played any role in its decision, and will aggressively defend against her claims in court.”
BC alleges Foley’s inappropriate actions included “pitting two players against each other and carrying on telephone conversations with student-athletes while Foley sounded intoxicated.”
Foley denies the allegations and asserts that one of her former players violated the Massachusetts wiretapping law by recording their phone conversation without her consent. She claims BC administrators based their decision to cut ties with her in part by listening to the unauthorized and improperly obtained recording.
At the heart of her suit, Foley alleges that BC imposed a double standard based on gender bias by treating and evaluating her differently from the school’s male coaches, particularly men’s soccer coach Ed Kelly, who retired in 2019, and Jason Lowe, her successor as the women’s coach.
Foley specifically cites BC’s former athletic director Martin Jarmond and the school’s current vice president of human resources, David Trainor, as engaging in the alleged discriminatory and retaliatory practices.
Foley’s lawyer, Thomas Newkirk, said he reached out to BC’s president, the Reverend William P. Leahy, to try to resolve the matter but received a “cold shoulder, jump in the lake” response from the school’s legal counsel.
Newkirk described Foley as a prospective Hall of Fame coach whose career has been ruined by BC’s actions. He said his Iowa-based firm has represented more than 150 female coaches who like Foley “have been held to a double standard because of gender bias and stereotypes in how they are evaluated by both athletes and the administration.”
Foley’s complaint states, for instance, that Jarmond set markedly higher job requirements for her in 2018 than he did for Kelly. Her alleged requirements included finishing in the top half of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings, qualifying for the ACC and NCAA tournaments, and raising $25,000 for locker room improvements. Foley states she met or exceeded each requirement.
The lawsuit also alleges that Foley was forced out after her teams in 2017 and 2018 were awarded BC’s Devlin Cup, which honors a sports team whose student-athletes best exemplify BC’s mission of community service.
In all, Foley’s teams qualified for 15 NCAA tournaments, reached the Final Four once, the Elite Eight three times, and the Sweet 16 eight times. Her career record at BC was 280-145-39.
Foley’s complaint says she received a number of other job offers, but she turned them down to stay at BC. Since her departure, the BC women’s soccer team has gone 17-25-4.
In September, Suffolk Superior Justice Jackie A. Cowin denied BC’s motion to dismiss the discrimination and retaliation counts of Foley’s lawsuit. BC did not ask the judge to dismiss a third count related to the wiretapping issue.
In her ruling, Cowin found that sections of Foley’s complaint referring to “generalized allegations about stereotypes and attitudes toward female athletes” were inappropriate and ordered them stricken for her lawsuit.
The litigation continues. No future court date has been scheduled.
Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.