'Politics' claimed in Diggs trial

January 18, 1995|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,Sun Staff Writer

A lawyer for Morgan State football coach Ricky Diggs yesterday called a former employee's claims of sexual harassment nothing more than "internal politics in Morgan State University's athletic department."

Such claims were disputed by Elizabeth A. Stearns' lawyer, who said her client was railroaded out of her "perfect job" as the academic coordinator for the school's athletes after she raised formal harassment complaints in 1992.

The differing versions of events were outlined in the civil trial that opened in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday. Stearns' lawsuit was filed in April 1993 charging Diggs, Morgan officials and the state with sexual harassment, racial discrimination and for retaliating once she made her complaints.

She is asking for her job back and for $500,000 in punitive damages.

In challenging her contentions, defense lawyers say they will offer evidence that Stearns had sexual relationships with an assistant football coach and with a player. It is alleged that she raised claims of sexual harassment only after a "falling out" with Diggs in November 1992.

Assistant Attorney General Dawna M. Cobb told the jury of six women and six men that Stearns' actions contributed to a sexually-charged atmosphere in the athletic department.

"She also interjected sexual innuendo into the workplace by the way she dressed [and] the way she talked," Cobb said. She said that the school's athletic director warned her about wearing short skirts and high heels around young athletes.

Diggs admitted using profanity in a confrontation with Stearns, but "this wasn't sexual harassment," Cobb said.

Stearns' lawyer, Christyne L. Neff, said Diggs "made vulgar, obscene, disgusting sexual remarks on a regular basis."

Stearns expected to find relaxed, joking surroundings in a college athletic department when Morgan's athletic director hired her in August 1991, Neff said. But "Coach Diggs had in store . . . come-ons, propositions, sexually abusive language and threats ultimately, threats to get her fired, threats which were eventually carried out," Neff said.

Some of his sexual propositions occurred during road trips when Stearns accompanied the team and by phone in the fall of 1991, she said.

University officials, influenced by the coach, demoted Stearns in November 1992 and ensured that her contract would not be renewed in June 1993 in retaliation for her formal harassment charges against Diggs, according to her lawyer.

But changes in her duties and her eventual movement to another department were not related to Stearns' complaints, Cobb said.

In anger, Diggs said he would try to get her fired, but he wrote a memo complaining about her performance only after learning many of his players were failing or getting poor grades, according to Cobb.

Possible witnesses over the next week and half include Morgan President Earl S. Richardson, other university officials and football players. Stearns also is expected to testify.

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