AUBURN HILLS (WWJ/AP) – Oakland University says fired women’s basketball coach Beckie Francis physically and emotionally abused her players, was obsessed about their weight and pushed her Christian beliefs on them.
The Auburn Hills-based public university made the statements in a brief responding to a lawsuit filed by Francis in Oakland County Circuit Court.
The school’s filing Friday says Francis had players photographed in sports bras and spandex to monitor body changes, and some played developed eating problems. She also insisted that players attend church and showed Christian-themed videos on team bus rides, despite being told not to proselytize them as coach, according to the school.
Click here to see OU’s court filing (.pdf format)
Attorney Deborah Gordon, who represents Francis, said the abuse assertion is “meaningless” without context and calls it a “smear.”
Gordon denied that Francis was responsible for any dietary problems of her players.
“You cannot create an eating disorder in a 20-year-old,” the lawyer said. If a player had an eating problem, she said, “it has nothing to do with Beckie Francis.”
Gordon said it is crucial for her client to be able to see the full university investigation report, including the identity of players making complaints, whose names were redacted by the university.
“They choose to do an investigation, create a written report and thrown vague allegations around in public, so it is what it is,” Gordon told the Detroit Free Press. “She needs to know what is in that report, not what they say or supposedly told her.”
According to her lawsuit, Francis was suspended on May 31 without pay pending “further review.” Then, on June 12, Oakland University fired Francis — the same day her husband Gary Russi, the university’s president, announced his decision to retire after nearly 20 years heading up the 19,000-student school.
Francis, who called the situation a “witch-hunt,” claims she was never given a specific reason why she was fired. The university said the findings of an “internal review” provide “cause” for Francis’ termination.
On July 24, the school’s Interim President Betty Youngblood issued a campus advisory, alleging that Francis was fired over religious discrimination.
“As soon as allegations of religious discrimination came to light, the university acted swiftly to investigate. The university did not tolerate such conduct and will not tolerate such conduct moving forward,” the advisory read, in part.
Still, five months later, Francis said she was never given a direct reason for losing her job, so she filed a lawsuit under the Employee Right to Know Act to obtain an un-redacted copy of the internal investigation report. Both parties will be in court on Wednesday to discuss the matter.
In their filing, the school says Francis’ “desperation is feigned.”
“[Francis] participated in two meetings totaling more than two house where Oakland explained to her why it was suspending her, listened to her responses and explanations and then terminated her employment,” the filing says. “[Francis] knows very well why Oakland terminated her employment.”
The filing cites the school’s internal investigation report, which states that “all interviewees/witnesses… categorize the allegations as forms of mental and emotional abuse.” The school says the report found that Francis is a “master manipulator” who “has a sense of entitlement.”
According to the filing, “Francis expects automatic compliance with her instructions and/or expectations… assumes her priorities/positions are so important that others should defer without question and gets irritated when questioned; any difference of opinion is perceived to be a disagreement, and any disagreement is viewed as proof of disloyalty, and disloyalty is not tolerated.”
The filing says Francis is “obsessed with nutrition and body fat. Francis controls how much student athletes eat, when and what they eat.” The filing also says Francis participated in “pray to play” religious discrimination.
The filing says Francis is insulting and demeaning to assistant coaches in the presence of student athletes, so much so that “all staff fear for their jobs.”
Wrapping up the filing, the school says “while [Francis] may feel put out by not getting the keys to the proverbial candy store, Oakland has to be mindful of its legal obligation to keep records related to students confidential and to the chilling effect releasing an un-redacted version of its investigatory report would have on the welfare of its student athletes.”
Francis was hired as the school’s head basketball coach in 1997. During her time as coach, she led the women’s basketball team to two appearances in the NCAA tournament and was named conference coach of the year twice.
Francis, the second-winningest women’s basketball coach in school history, made national news last year when she publicly discussed her past as a victim of childhood sexual abuse.
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