Diggs, Stearns reach deal of 'dignity and honor'

January 27, 1995|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,Sun Staff Writer

After filling a federal courtroom with charges of sexual propositions, profanity and inter-office affairs, Morgan State University's football coach and a former employee ended their dispute yesterday under a cloak of secrecy.

Neither coach Ricky Diggs nor Elizabeth A. Stearns, his accuser in the sexual harassment suit, would reveal terms of the settlement, reached during four hours of talks. But the agreement brought "dignity and honor to both sides," according to the federal judge who endorsed it.

Stearns, Morgan's former academic coordinator for athletes, sued Diggs and school officials in April 1993. She said she was demoted for the second time that March in retaliation for complaining about what she characterized as constant sexual overtures and degrading remarks from the coach. Her contract was allowed to lapse in June 1993.

She was asking for reinstatement with back pay. She also wanted the school to formally reprimand Diggs, apologize to her and institute a sexual harassment policy.

Both sides expressed relief yesterday.

"I'm glad it's over," said Diggs, who was eager to get back to recruiting since Wednesday is the first day to sign high school seniors to letters of intent. "This cloud has been over my head for a long time."

Of her plans for the future, Stearns said only, "I don't know."

"We're pleased at the resolution," said Christyne L. Neff, one of Stearns' lawyers.

The settlement ended a nine-day trial that included a swarm of explicit allegations from Stearns, Diggs and others.

Stearns and her lawyers painted the coach as a jilted suitor who subjected her to degrading remarks and campaigned to have her fired after she confronted him about his remarks in November 1992.

Diggs' lawyers cast Stearns in the role of a troublemaker who brought conflict to the athletic department through sexual relationships with assistant coaches and players.

According to the testimony of Morgan senior Marion Johnson, who described herself as a confidant of Stearns, the academic coordinator talked frequently about her intimate relationships with former assistant coach L. C. Cole and with a football player.

But Stearns and Cole both testified that their relationship was platonic.

Neither side would comment yesterday about how or why they decided to settle.

"It was the process of the trial that enabled the parties to reach a common ground," Joel A. Smith, Stearns' other lawyer, told jury members before they were dismissed.

That common ground does not seem to include an agreement on what actually happened in and around Hill Field House.

"Today, as at the beginning of the case, the parties greatly disagree as to what happened," U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis told the jury.

"While the side that you could determine was right . . . deserves complete vindication, the other person doesn't deserve extreme punishment," he said. The judge added:

"Anybody who had to learn a lesson . . . has learned a lesson."

To juror Milton Dowrey, 54, "Mostly, it was just something that got out of hand." Although Diggs admitted making some inappropriate statements, "I couldn't call that harassment," said Dowrey.

Stearns said Diggs began propositioning her on team road trips in September 1991, about a month after she came to the university for her $28,000-a-year position. In November 1992, she filed a complaint with university officials, she said.

Diggs admitted making inappropriate comments to Stearns and was reprimanded by the university in November 1992 for "verbal abuse" of Stearns and his players.

But he said he did not harass her.

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