The tenure of the coach with the most wins in Georgia Tech women’s basketball history has ended at 16 years after an independent investigation authorized by the school found that team members said that MaChelle Joseph bullied and manipulated them and was mentally, emotionally and verbally abusive.
However, an attorney representing Joseph disputed the findings of the report, alleging that the findings were manufactured and that she actually was fired as the result of an unlawful campaign of retaliation for the coach’s efforts to advocate for gender equity in the Tech athletic department. Joseph’s attorney, Lisa Banks, said in a statement late Tuesday night that Joseph will “pursue all legal avenues available” to redress what Banks termed “her unlawful termination.”
Joseph was dismissed Tuesday in a face-to-face meeting with athletic director Todd Stansbury, a month after she was placed on leave when team members brought forward concerns of mistreatment to the institute’s legal department.
“At the end of the day, the most important priority of our athletics department is student-athlete well-being ,and it is clear from the findings of this report that we cannot ensure our women’s basketball student-athletes’ well-being with MaChelle as the head coach,” Stansbury said in a teleconference with media Tuesday evening.
The investigation, conducted by by Littler Mendelson P.C. Employment and Labor Law Solutions Worldwide, entailed interviews with every member of the 2018-19 team, its three assistant coaches, various Tech administrators and support staff, parents of team members and also Joseph.
Among the findings of the report, obtained by an open-records request, at least nine members of the team said they could not trust any member of the coaching staff. None said they trusted Joseph.
Players said that they felt Joseph pressured them to play through injury or sickness and found her to be demeaning and manipulating. Several players said they felt that information shared with a team psychologist was shared with the coaching staff. They used words such as toxic, draining and hostile to describe the team environment. Stansbury called the report “heartbreaking.”
In the report, Joseph said that information shared with the team psychologist was kept in confidence and denied pressuring players to play through injury (not being able to inspect medical records, the report could not conclude the accusations to be true). She acknowledged she yelled and cursed at players, but denied being emotionally or mentally abusive.
Stansbury called the allegation that Joseph was fired for her gender-equity advocacy “absolutely not true” and said that “we take Title IX seriously.”
Lisa Banks, the attorney for Joseph, called the coach “tough but fair.”
“We are confident the truth will emerge and coach Joseph will be fully vindicated,” Banks said in a statement.
The firm connected a former player and the parent of a player with the AJC, both of whom were strenuous in their defense of Joseph.
“I absolutely didn’t feel like I was bullied or verbally abused or anything like that,” said former Yellow Jacket Danielle Hamilton-Carter, who acknowledged that Joseph was “very, very tough” but said that “all of that has shaped me into the person I am today.”
Kendra Davis, the mother of former Tech star Kaela Davis, said that Joseph “is passionate. She’s not a shrinking violet, that’s for sure, but she’s in not in any way abusive. No way.”
Stansbury also said that all three assistant coaches will be replaced, and that the team psychologist, who was contracted by the team, also will not be used going forward. He also said that he had confidence in the findings of the report. Also, in the report, several players alleged conduct that, if true, could be NCAA violations. Tech has initiated a review of the allegations with the NCAA. The men’s basketball team already is under NCAA investigation.
Joseph leaves Tech with the most wins in school history, a record of 311-201 and seven NCAA tournament appearances. She did not respond to a request for comment, but gave a statement through Banks thanking past and current team members, coaches and supporters of the team.
Joseph had one year remaining on a contract that was worth $350,000 annually. Tech could seek to fire her with cause and not pay her the $175,000 she would otherwise be owed as severance. Her contract stipulates that she could fired without any further financial obligation for “involvement in conduct that the Athletic Association, in its sole discretion, reasonably considers injurious to the reputation of the Association or the Institute.”