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Lawyer: Locksley Wanted Pretty Office Girls

By Greg Archuleta
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          University of New Mexico football coach Mike Locksley's recruiting practices are the root of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against him, his accuser's lawyer said.
        UNM's response: Neither Locksley, the first-year, first-time head coach, nor anyone else in the athletics department has done anything wrong.
        Attorney Whitney Warner said Locksley fired her client, former Lobo football administrative assistant Sylvia Lopez, because she was not a "young gal" who could entice recruits.
        The university denies she was fired, and UNM athletics director Paul Krebs predicts the university will be vindicated.
        Warner said the problem is systemic.
        "The real focus of what seems to have happened here is that coach Locksley, because of how he's done things at other places he's worked, is used to having the staff in the football department be young, attractive women because they're enticing for recruits," Warner said. "They have a lot of interaction with recruits, and (Locksley) made a number of statements shortly after he was hired and throughout the time that Ms. Lopez was still there that he needed to get younger gals in there — younger-looking, young, fresh gals in there — because they're good recruiting tools.
        "He made a number of other comments of — how should I put it — admiring young women — I guess would be the best way (to put it) — in the work environment. So that's really what the basis of the sex harassment (claim) is. Most employers and employees don't want to be around a manager who is constantly making it known who he thinks is attractive or what aspect of their physique he thinks is attractive."
        She also contended that Krebs' treatment of Lopez after she transferred out of the football office helped lead to an early retirement Lopez did not want.
        The account of the case comes at a time when the two sides are getting ready to mediate on the EEOC complaint that Lopez, 54, filed against Locksley in April.
        Krebs responded with his contentions about Warner.
        "The university is deeply troubled by Ms. Lopez's attorney to litigate her claims through the Albuquerque Journal, rather than in the process that's been laid out," he says. "And the timing of this is circumspect, considering the parties are getting ready to litigate.
        "I would also add that I believe their statements can contain a number of inaccuracies or misrepresentations of the facts or information that are simply not accurate or true. I'm not willing to go point by point and fall into the situation that I was critical of (Warner) about, which is playing this out in the media."
        Even more damning, Warner said, is a performance review Lopez received in March, just weeks before she alleges Locksley fired her.
        "Her March, 2009 evaluation states the following about her performance," Warner said. "'Sylvia is open to new ideas, listens to others and their needs and takes initiative and adapts well to change. ... Sylvia has provided high-quality services to all of our student-athletes, colleagues and public and works extremely well as a team member.' "
        Neither side disclosed who did — or didn't — conduct that review.
        No overture alleged
        Warner stressed that the main charge in the complaint against Locksley, 39, is age discrimination, even though it also includes sexual harassment and retaliation charges.
        "There is a charge for sexual harassment, although I think that term is very misleading in the facts of this case," Warner said. "Technically, it's probably legally accurate. But 'sexual harassment' implies to most people — even most lawyers — that there is some come-on type comments. That is just not a fact in this case."
        Warner said Locksley's behavior created a hostile environment for Lopez, a UNM employee for more than 25 years.
        "Coach Locksley asked Ms. Lopez how old she was and when she told him she was 54, he said, 'You're old enough to be my mother,' " Warner said. "It's pretty clear he's not happy with her because of her age.
        "He fired her. I don't necessarily want to get into that incident and what happened, but things came to a head and he fired her."
        "No," Krebs countered, "She submitted her retirement."
        How Lopez departed the football office may be a matter of semantics, but UNM did transfer her to a position in the Lobo Club office after the fallout with Locksley.
        There, Warner contended, Lopez faced another adverse environment.
        "The thing that happened between what I will call the firing (by Locksley) and her getting some other position to accommodate the transfer issue — again, this is more detailed than probably is warranted at this point — but there was a lot of indication to her that the university wanted to get rid of her," Warner says. "It was a smoke-and-mirrors sort of thing, that position, and comments that were made to her when she started it and the treatment that she received were very indicative that they didn't want her back."
        When asked who else Lopez thought was mistreating her, Warner says, "I know she received poor treatment from the athletics director between the termination and her decision to retire and her actual retirement."
        When asked for a comment about his involvement, Krebs said, "As I said earlier, we strongly deny and continue to deny that we've done anything wrong. I think when the facts come out, our position will be totally vindicated."
        The picture Warner painted of Locksley is in stark contrast of those for whom he worked prior to arriving at UNM.
        In an interview on subject matter unrelated to the Locksley investigation, Illinois head coach Ron Zook portrayed his former offensive coordinator as a man of tremendous character — and that's what makes him such a heralded recruiter.
        "He cares about people," Zook said. "He cares about people's feelings, he can relate to their feelings, can talk to all levels of people. When people show an interest in you as a person, then you have a tendency to have confidence to be around him."
        UNM dismisses 'wild allegations'
        Warner said Lopez doesn't want Locksley fired; she just wants him to act more responsibly about his recruiting tactics.
        "He may be a fantastic football coach," Warner said, "but you can't choose who you're going to employ based on age and gender, which were sort of the only thing that mattered. He made that very clear."
        Lopez is seeking financial compensation as part of the claim.
        "She couldn't afford to retire, she didn't want to retire, she didn't want to resign, " Warner said. "If she would've continued working, her retirement pay would be substantially higher than what it is at early retirement."
        The Journal and other media made numerous attempts to contact Lopez or her lawyer in the past four months.
        When asked why she is speaking out now, Warner said her client felt UNM kept ignoring the bigger picture.
        "I think one of (Lopez's) main concerns is that the mentality of, 'We want young gals here to be attractive enticements for recruits' is a major problem," Warner said. "Just the thought of using young women as recruiting tools is, I think, very offensive. They're not an object to use to get high school boys interested in coming to UNM.
        "The way the university has handled this situation suggests that they are willing to do a lot of things that might not be appropriate in order to protect coach Locksley. ... They want to deal with her employment and ignore the other issues that they have, and they have a more systemic problem than just Ms. Lopez. She was a casualty of the way things are going."
        Said Krebs, "I'm not going to dignify those comments. How we hire, who we hire, how we conduct our business ... there's some wild accusations and claims. We follow all the processes UNM has in place for hiring, and we strictly adhere to the NCAA rules related to the recruiting process."

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