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Volume 25 No. 23
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Arizona's Rich Rodriguez Fired After Claims Of Running Hostile Workplace, Sexual Harassment

Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez was fired yesterday after a $7.5M notice of claim was "filed with the state’s Attorney General’s Office alleging that Rodriguez ran a hostile workplace and sexually harassed a former employee," according to a front-page piece by Finley, Lev & Ferguson of the ARIZONA DAILY STAR. UA President Robert Robbins and AD Dave Heeke said that they "will 'honor the separation terms' of the coach’s contract, after an internal investigation did not find enough evidence to fire him for cause." His buyout is about $6M. Rodriguez tweeted a statement yesterday saying he will "vigorously fight these fabricated and groundless claims" made by former Administrative Assistant Melissa Wilhelmsen. Rodriguez added that he was "fired by email." The notice of claim, filed Thursday by Wilhelmsen and her attorney, provides "advance notice of a lawsuit against a public body." Most notices of claim are first "sent to the Arizona Board of Regents" or the UA itself, but hers went "directly to the Attorney General’s Office." Portions of the claim "paint a culture in which secrecy was valued above all else." It alleges that Rodriguez and his "closest aides followed a 'hideaway book' that detailed such sayings as 'Title IX doesn't exist in our office.'" According to the claim, those who had the most interaction with Rodriguez "referred to themselves as the 'Triangle of Secrecy,'" and those three were charged with "lying to Rodriguez's wife to cover up an extramarital affair." In the claim, Wilhelmsen said she "had to walk on eggshells at work, because of (Rodriguez's) volatility and sheer power over the department." The UA Office of Institutional Equity began "investigating Rodriguez in October," three months after Wilhelmsen "left for an off-campus job." Robbins and Heeke said that the investigation "concluded last week," and while counsel "did not find enough to terminate Rodriguez, the university became concerned with the 'climate and the direction' of the football program" (ARIZONA DAILY STAR, 1/3).

THE ALLEGATIONS: In Phoenix, Harris & Ryman note Wilhelmsen "described several occasions in which Rodriguez’s actions and words made her particularly uncomfortable, including walking past her shirtless in his underwear, trying to kiss her and asking her to come to his house alone to assist him with his dog." Wilhelmsen's claim "alleges that Rodriguez was a demanding boss, frequently calling 'at all hours of the night just to change travel plans or make some other requests which were only emergencies to him.'" Among the other allegations are that Rodriguez called Wilhelmsen into his office in January '17 when he began "discussing his marital problems and then grabbed her ... 'and tried to kiss her.'" She managed to "pull away." Two weeks later, he "called her back to his office and said he wanted to 'take care of her.'" Rodriguez "handed her $300 in cash, but she refused the money" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 1/3). In N.Y., Benjamin Hoffman notes despite UA's investigation, it "remains unclear how much the performance of the Wildcats played into the decision." UA, which was 3-9 in '16, had a strong 6-2 start to the '17 season, but lost four of its final five games, including a 38-35 loss to Purdue in the Foster Farms Bowl (N.Y. TIMES, 1/3).