MaChelle Joseph files lawsuit against Georgia Tech alleging sex discrimination

Four months after firing her on the basis of a report that found her to be bullying and abusive to her team, former Georgia Tech women’s basketball coach MaChelle Joseph filed a lawsuit against the Tech athletic association and school and state officials. Joseph alleged sex discrimination against her and her team, a retaliatory and hostile work environment and breach of contract in a complaint filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. It follows similar charges made at the time of her firing March 26.

Beyond the athletic association, Joseph also named outgoing school president G.P. “Bud” Peterson, athletic director Todd Stansbury, associate athletic directors Marvin Lewis and Shoshanna Engel and the state board of regents as defendants in the complaint.

“As result of the Defendants’ actions, Coach Joseph has suffered and will continue to suffer considerable economic, emotional, and professional harm,” the complaint read.

The lawsuit seeks damages for economic losses, damage to professional reputation and pain and suffering experienced.

A Tech spokesman declined a request for comment as the school policy is to not comment on pending lawsuits. At the time of her firing, Stansbury said that Joseph's claim that she was fired for gender-equity advocacy "absolutely not true" and said that "we take Title IX seriously."

The complaint sought to portray Joseph as a coach who was successful on the court but was ostracized for continually bringing complaints and concerns about discrimination against herself and her team on the basis of sex. It further asserted that the investigative report that found players describing Joseph as manipulative and verbally, mentally and emotionally abusive was part of a wider effort by administrators to avoid renegotiating her contract and instead remove her from her position.

The lawsuit made a case for sex discrimination in stating that Joseph’s team did not receive the same level of facilities, publicity and marketing, compensation for coaching and travel as the men’s team.

According to the lawsuit, for example, the women’s team locker room was of “substandard quality” and had not received any major upgrades in Joseph’s 18 years at Tech (16 as head coach), while the men’s locker room area was much larger and had been regularly upgraded, outfitted with a pool table, video-game systems and a new lounge. At the time of Joseph’s firing, for example, the women’s lockers were dated and broken and the laundry room had one washer and one dryer, where the men’s locker area had new lockers, three washers and four dryers.

The complaint claimed also that the offices for the women’s team in the Edge Center were small and outdated and shared with the swim team coaching staff, with some assistant coaches having to sit at desks in the hallway, while the offices for the men’s team were roughly double the size with each staff member having dedicated office space.

Regarding compensation, the suit noted that the salary pool for men’s coach Josh Pastner’s first set of assistants was 35 percent larger than it had been for former coach Brian Gregory’s assistants in Gregory’s final season (2015-16), while claiming that Joseph’s salary pool for assistants was 2% smaller in her final season at Tech than it was in 2015-16.

“GT’s and Defendant GTAA’s failure to provide Coach Joseph a budget sufficient to afford a similar level of coaching staff (quality and quantity) relative to the MBB team denied the WBB team equal athletic opportunity and negatively interfered with the terms and conditions of Coach Joseph’s employment,” the suit read.

Similar complaints were lodged about differences in travel and marketing resources.

Joseph’s lawsuit also listed a series of grievances, repeatedly asserting that she was treated with hostility, that her concerns about her team receiving inequitable resources were rebuffed or ignored and that she was singled out for behavior that her male counterparts would not have been.

A narrative in the complaint stated that Joseph believed that Engel, who oversees NCAA rules compliance and Title IX matters, and Lewis, who is the department’s chief financial officer and also the administrator for the men’s basketball team, had a conflict of interest because of their romantic relationship. (The lawsuit cites Stansbury, saying that their relationship was approved by Peterson.)

The filing stated that in May 2018, after Joseph raised discrimination concerns in a presentation, Engel questioned her need for more travel money while Lewis challenged Joseph on the accuracy of budget figures comparing Tech with the rest of the ACC.

According to the lawsuit, in a July 2018 meeting with Stansbury and deputy AD Mark Rountree, “Coach Joseph reiterated her concern that Defendant Lewis and Defendant Engel ran their departments in a manner that clearly benefited MBB to the detriment of WBB, and that she felt like she had no one with whom to raise her concerns about this disparate treatment in light of their romantic relationship.”

After Joseph told Stansbury and Rountree that other coaches of women’s teams felt similarly, the complaint asserted that “Defendant Stansbury reacted strongly, snapping at Joseph, ‘Maybe they (the female coaches) all need to be fired!’ or words to that effect.”

The lawsuit sought to establish that the athletic department did not attempt to negotiate in good faith with her for a contract extension (it was due to expire after the 2019-20 season) and instead tried to isolate Joseph and remove her from her position because of the concerns she continually raised about disparate treatment. The report about her behavior that led to her firing, the lawsuit stated, was part of that effort.

According to the complaint, Rountree (Joseph’s direct supervisor at the time) told Joseph’s agent that her contract would be extended if the NCAA cleared her and her team of wrongdoing from an investigation into the recruitment of a player and the team made the NCAA tournament.

However, Stansbury failed to inform Joseph or her representatives when she was cleared by the NCAA in February 2019, according to the lawsuit, terming that decision “unusual and unprecedented.” With Tech closing in on an NCAA berth, Tech administrators “started to search for other reasons to justify taking more permanent employment actions against her.”

The lawsuit requests a trial by jury and a judgement that the institution and individuals engaged in unlawful discrimination based on sex and retaliation and breach of contract. Joseph is seeking damages, including punitive, interest and attorney fees.