Another EOC complaint emerges against USM & A.D. Hammond

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Another high ranking director in the USM athletic department has filed an EOC complaint, alleging she was discriminated against during the hiring of an interim athletics director.

Sonya Varnell, the Associate Director of Athletics for Olympic Sports, claims in her complaint that she was passed over for the position despite having 25 years of experience as a student athlete, coach, and administrator.

According to the EOC document, Varnell also filed an October, 2011 complaint with the University's EOC Director against now Interim A.D., Jeff Hammond. In that complaint, Varnell alleges verbal abuse and bullying. Two months later, Hammond was named interim director. Varnell's attorney Winston Thompson of Jackson, says he will wait for the results of the EOC investigation before deciding any further action.

In March, former Senior Associate Director of Athletics, Diane Stark, filed a similar EOC complaint against the university and Hammond alleging the school operated a hostile workplace and accused Hammond of harassment and intimidation.

Currently, Hammond and Appalachian State University A.D., Charlie Cobb, are believed to be the top two candidates to replace Richard Giannini. School officials say a new A.D. will be appointed by the end of the semester.

Varnell is no stranger to discrimination lawsuits. In 2008, a Forrest county jury awarded three former USM soccer coaches 1.2 million dollars. The coaches claimed they were fired or removed from their positions in 2000 for reporting alleged sexual advances toward one coach by Varnell. In 2010, Judge Bob Helfrich overruled two of the jury awards. However, all three are on appeal in various stages at the state Supreme Court.

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