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Ex- Coach Files Discrimination Suit, Says School Told Her to Look More Feminine

Article appeared in Sports Litigation Alert

Jaclyn Salzwedel, a former softball coach at Clarke University, has filed a suit against her former employer claiming she was wrongfully fired after she rejected its efforts to make her more feminine.

Salzwedel began working for the university in August 2010 and says she would normally wear long cargo shorts and a polo or T-shirt to work, fixed her hair in a ponytail and avoided wearing makeup. She claims that by 2012, Vice President for Student Life Kate Zanger began encouraging her to wear makeup and more feminine clothing.

Salzwedel says she was given a new hairstyle and lessons on how to put on makeup. She also claims another female coach was selected to be her mentor to help work on her professional image and that she was asked to wear slimming undergarments and high-heeled shoes.

According to the suit, Salzwedel told Athletic Director Curt Long she was uncomfortable with the changes they had asked her to make. In May 2013, Salzwedel said she was fired “just hours after the softball season ended” and was not given a reason for her termination.

The suit was filed against Clarke University, Long and Zanger. University officials have declined to comment.

Experts Weigh In

While hesitant to comment until she could see the complaint, Donna Lopiano, a former athletic director and president of Sports Management Resources, offered the following:

“If they did not have a dress code for both male and female employees and required only women or this one woman to conform to a dress/appearance code, it would be sex discrimination, at least under Title VII, and possibly under Title IX.”

Attorney Lindy Korn, who has litigated her fair share of discrimination cases, noted that “since sexual orientation is not covered by federal law, sexual stereotyping is the only way to bring these claims in Federal Court. Thus, such claims are on the rise.”

She added that it is the responsibility of human resources professionals to train ADs on “issues of discrimination, including sexual stereotyping and the tension between religion and gay rights.”

Korn pointed to the following case as instructive:http://harvardlawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/prowel_v_wise_business_forms.pdf

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