Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

April 5, 2001

Pitt sued over firing of employee

A long-term former employee has sued the University alleging she was fired as the result of her complaints of sexual harassment.

Maria Novey was relieved of her duties as director of basketball and volleyball operations in Pitt's athletics department on March 17, 1999. She continued to draw a University salary until Aug. 31, 1999, the date her employment was terminated.

Novey, 46, filed a civil action last month in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The suit alleges that Novey was terminated after complaining about unwanted sexual advances from Dick Groat during the 1998-99 basketball season. Groat is the commentator on radio broadcasts of Pitt men's basketball games. He is not named as a defendant in the suit.

Novey contends in the suit that she complained about Groat's advances to four officials in athletics, including her supervisors, then-head men's basketball coach Ralph Willard, and Jim Earle, associate athletics director. The suit further alleges that within three weeks after registering her complaints, Novey was relieved of her responsibilities as a retaliatory measure.

Director of News and Information Ken Service said the University would not comment on the specifics of the litigation.

The suit charges three counts against the University: sex discrimination, retaliation and violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

Novey is seeking job reinstatement and compensatory damages, including back pay and lost benefits, as well as damages for pain and suffering, punitive damages, prejudgment interest and legal fees.

Novey worked at Pitt for 26 years, including serving as assistant to the executive vice president of the University from 1982 to 1990. She also served as executive assistant to the chancellor before joining the athletics staff in 1994.

Novey filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Sept. 13, 1999. The EEOC ruled in December 2000 that Novey was subjected to gender discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation for reporting sexual harassment.

The EEOC also ruled that Novey was not a victim of age discrimination, which she had alleged in her EEOC complaint.

According to the EEOC determination, written by area director Eugene V. Nelson, "The record indicates that the radio announcer [Groat] made comments and exhibited behavior towards [Novey] which not only made her uncomfortable, but revealed his interest in having an intimate relationship with her."

The EEOC determination rejected Pitt's claim that "it was the decision of the new head coach for the men's basketball program to terminate" Novey. "The record does not support this claim. In fact, witness testimony revealed that the new head coach did not make the decision," the EEOC stated.

Pitt hired current men's basketball head coach Ben Howland on March 8, 1999.

The EEOC determination further stated that "No evidence was found which shows that [Pitt] addressed [Novey's] complaint of sexual harassment."

The EEOC issued a right to sue letter in January 2001.

According to Novey's attorney, James W. Carroll Jr., "Pitt's defense is that it was Howland's decision [to fire her]. But evidence showed he only learned about her dismissal the same day she was fired. Also, Pitt claimed she was let go the same way assistant coaches are when a new coach comes in. Not only is she not a coach, she's an administrator, but NCAA rules prohibit [staff in her position] to do any coaching. And it is not common practice, at least not at Pitt, to fire administrators when there is a coaching change."

Carroll added that Novey was an exemplary staff member and was replaced by two younger males who were less competent and experienced than Novey.

"As the suit states: 'The defendant had no job-related reason to terminate plaintiff,'" Carroll said.

Basketball commentator Groat is not an employee of Pitt's, but in the language of the lawsuit he is an "agent" for Pitt.

"It doesn't really matter if he's an employee or not," Carroll said. "Under Title VII, the employer is responsible for a hostile-free environment, whether that's a co-worker, or, for example, a customer who is sexually harassing a waitress. It's the employer's responsibility to keep the environment hostile-free."

As part of her duties, Novey made travel arrangements for the team and its party, which included Groat. "They were in contact as a result of her job," Carroll said.

Groat's attorney, Dan Shapira, declined to comment on the suit.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Francis Caiazza.

Peter Hart

Leave a Reply