Complaint against USM alleges harassment, intimidation - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Complaint against USM alleges harassment, intimidation

© Diane Stark filed the EEOC complaint against the university © Diane Stark filed the EEOC complaint against the university

An-ex employee is taking steps towards a lawsuit, filing a complaint against the University of Southern Mississippi under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Her allegations, focus on Interim Athletic Director Jeff Hammond.

The complaint - filed by former athletic department senior staffer Diane Stark - alleges that she was discriminated against because she is a woman, says Stark's attorney Kim Chaze.

"She was not given the opportunity to even apply for the position of interim athletic director," said Chaze, "In spite of the fact that she is clearly more experienced and more qualified than Mr. Hammond."

Chaze says USM President Martha Saunders unilaterally chose Jeff Hammond - a former army Brigadier General and Southern Miss football star - for the position, which was never posted and applications never accepted for.

"Certainly no African American had an opportunity to apply for this position," Chaze said. "No female had an opportunity to apply for this position, only a white male got the position."

The complaint also states that Hammond created a hostile work environment, using harassment and intimidation tactics that went unaddressed by university administration and, after six years on staff, forced Stark to leave.

"He would essentially engage in acts where he was literally pounding on his chest, pounding on the desk, cursing, slamming his fist on the table, at one point he referred to an alleged twin brother who was a killer," said Chaze. "When Dr. Saunders was informed of these acts, she allegedly told a person 'That's probably what she deserved' talking about my client," said Chaze.

In the position now Hammond heads a department staff of more than 90 people. The complaint states that six other men and women have formally complained about Hammond's behavior to the University.

"His conduct just has created a toxic workplace there," said Chaze. "Finally it got so bad after she saw that she was not going to get any relief that she left the workplace, which she obviously wants her job and she also wants the opportunity to have the position that Mr. Hammond has."

When asked for a comment regarding the allegations Hammond said only, "I'm a man of integrity... I love my university."

In calls reaching out for a statement Tuesday, the university had no comment in response to Stark's complaint. Now that the complaint has been filed, the university board has several months to respond and, from there, depending on how they respond, a lawsuit could be the next step.

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