Sexual harassment trial of Morgan coach Diggs to begin today

January 17, 1995|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,Sun Staff Writer

Football players and athletic department officials are among the potential witnesses as a sexual harassment suit against Morgan State football coach Ricky Diggs comes to trial this week.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin today in U.S. District Court in Baltimore for the trial that could last 10 days.

In a suit filed in April 1993, Elizabeth A. Stearns, 31, said she was demoted from her position as academic coordinator for athletes for harassment claims she made against Diggs in 1992. In an amended complaint, she said her subsequent dismissal also was attributable to the harassment claims.

Stearns said that Diggs began a campaign for her ouster after she refused his requests for sex and then confronted him about sexual and racial comments he made about her to assistant coaches.

Stearns charged Diggs as well as former vice president of student affairs Raymond Downs, the school and the state with sexual harassment, racial and gender discrimination and retaliation for complaining. She is asking for $500,000 punitive damages and wants to be reinstated as academic coordinator.

In its defense, the state contends that Stearns may have encouraged some of Diggs' comments.

According to motions filed earlier this month, Stearns' "initial friendship with Diggs, the vulgar exchanges they shared before their friendship soured, her use of sexual language and provocative dress, are all relevant to determine which conduct by Diggs, if any, was unwelcome or offensive" to Stearns.

Settlement talks have been unsuccessful.

"There were settlement discussions, and as to why they weren't reached, I will let the plaintiffs comment on that," Assistant Attorney General Dawna M. Cobb said.

Stearns and her lawyers declined to comment on the talks. Diggs could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit lists a series of sexual advances and sexual and racial remarks made by Diggs, who is black, about Stearns, who is white, beginning about a month after she came to the school as academic coordinator and assistant to the football trainer in August 1991. Stearns came to Morgan, her first job in collegiate athletics, from a private girls school in Dallas.

On a trip to Ohio for a game on Sept. 20, 1991, the suit claims, Stearns ate dinner with Diggs in his hotel room, and "in the interest of culturing a positive working relationship with the football coach," stayed afterward to talk with him.

Diggs tried to kiss Stearns and "commented that he wanted to 'roll around on the bed' " with her, the suit states. Stearns refused and left.

The situation escalated the next season. Early in November 1992, when Stearns confronted Diggs about sexual and racial comments he made about her to assistant coaches, Diggs allegedly told her, "I'll do whatever it takes to get you fired."

After Stearns filed a harassment claim against Diggs with the school, the vice president for student affairs removed the football team from her supervision, the suit states.

Within days of this action, 69 football players signed a petition asking for Diggs' replacement as head coach and for Stearns' reinstatement.

Diggs stayed on, but the university reprimanded him for his verbal harassment of Stearns and in a public statement told him to change his treatment of the players.

Not satisfied with the school's response, Stearns filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December 1992. She was transferred out of the athletic department in March 1993, and in June of that year her contract was not renewed.

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