Beckie Francis was fired last June 'for cause' following an internal review of allegations according to a university press release at the time but attorney Deborah Gordon said — five months later — no one has ever provided any details about Francis' alleged misconduct. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Pontiac — A fired Oakland University women's basketball coach filed a lawsuit Friday against the school demanding documents which may explain why she was terminated from her job, her attorney said.
Beckie Francis was fired last June "for cause" following an internal review of allegations according to a university press release at the time but attorney Deborah Gordon said — five months later — no one has ever provided any details about Francis' alleged misconduct. Francis, head coach since 1997, was suspended without pay last May from her job at Oakland University.
"She (Francis) did not want to file a lawsuit — she didn't want to make this even more public — but they gave us no choice," said Gordon. "All we get are redacted documents without any specifics. We don't care about names — redact them if you want. We want to know the substance of this firing. Michigan law provides for that and she is being denied what she is entitled to under law."
Gordon referred to the Bullard-Plawecki Employee Right To Know Act, which requires employers to provide the materials from university personnel records.
Oakland University said it has been cooperating with their former employee’s requests.
“The University has been engaged with the former head basketball coach’s attorney and has already provided her with substantial documentation,” according to a statement released by the school. “While doing so, however, the University has been careful to respond in a manner that properly balanced the University’s various legal obligations, including the federally mandated protection of student privacy rights. The University will continue to strive to protect the privacy rights of its students.”
Francis will have an emergency hearing before Oakland Circuit Judge Martha Anderson next Wednesday, Nov. 6 at which time Gordon hopes to have the university ordered to comply with the law.
"Without her complete personnel record (she) is left to theorize as to the "cause" of her "for-cause" termination and whether her contract has been breached," said Gordon. "We need this information to move forward."
Media reports since the firing have implied that Francis may have been fired due to discussing her religious views with athletes. According to the lawsuit, in a Campus Advisory on July 24, 2013, the university's interim president, Betty J. Youngblood, suggested the "abrupt termination was due to allegations of religious discrimination." The advisory is published to all 19,000 students at the school, the lawsuit said.
"As soon as allegation of religious discrimination came to light, the university acted swiftly to investigate," Youngblood said in the advisory. "The university did not tolerate such conduct and will not tolerate such conduct moving forward."
Francis — the second-winningest woman's basketball coach in the history of the school — made national news more than a year ago when she discussed her past as a victim of childhood sex abuse.
Gary Russi, former president of Oakland University and Francis’ husband, announced he would retire June 12, the same day his wife was fired. His retirement was official August 1.
In August, the OU Board of Trustees approved a $462,000 retirement package for former Russi — even though Russi left before his contract was to expire next year and a provision barred payment of deferred compensation until then.
The package included $365,000 in deferred compensation with interest; $45,434 in accrued vacation time, and one day's salary. He also got two computers, an iPad and portable printer. Officials argued Russi — OU's president since June 1996 — earned the income, which will come out of the university's general fund.
He earned $357,875 annually.
Reporter Lauren Abdel-Razzaq contributed