Georgia Tech coach fired over alleged ‘toxic’ culture; coach disputes the dismissal

She disputes the reason behind her dismissal.

Georgia Tech said in a news release that Littler Mendelson P.C. Employment and Labor Law Solutions Worldwide conducted an independent investigation for the school after concerns were brought forward regarding head coach MaChelle Joseph’s conduct with the team. The school said Littler Mendelson was retained on Feb. 25, and Joseph was placed on leave two days later. Athletic Director Todd Stansbury said the report’s findings “left [them] no choice but to dismiss Coach Joseph.”

“I am disappointed and saddened to learn that the well-being of our student-athletes was being compromised. The findings of the independent investigation make it clear that the dismissal of Coach Joseph is necessary to restore the well-being of student-athletes as the No. 1 priority within our women’s basketball program,” Stansbury said in a statement.

The investigation consisted of 40 interviews with the 13 current members of the team and four former players, as well as Joseph herself, assistant coaches, administrative support staff, parents, consultants, and other individuals involved with the team, as well as a review of documents, according to the investigation summary report. Georgia Tech said Littler Mendelson submitted its report on March 20 and Joseph responded to it on March 25.

The report described players who said they had limited relationships or no relationships at all with Joseph, who became head coach of the team in 2003. At least nine players said they could not trust any members of the coaching staff, according to the report.

“When asked to describe their general feelings associated with the program and working with Coach Joseph, players described feeling insecure, nervous, anxious, and scared at various points in the season and in their careers. Others described the environment as ‘toxic,’ ‘suffocating,’ ‘draining and miserable,’ and ‘unhealthy,’” the report said, adding that some players said their experiences affected their enjoyment for playing basketball.

According to the report, players described sometimes being targeted by Joseph, which could lead to “extreme cursing and yelling” over their mistakes, and claimed she often threw objects like basketballs and clipboards and regularly broke her clipboard. The report also said players had sometimes felt pressured to play despite being injured and were subject to “daily belittlement” and called “derogatory and demeaning names.”

“The players described Coach Joseph’s conduct as ‘bullying’ and emotionally, mentally, and verbally ‘abusive,’” the report said.

Some staff members also echoed players’ claims and said they had also felt “regularly disrespected” by Joseph, and described her conduct was “different in nature and severity as that exhibited by other collegiate coaches with whom they have interacted.”

Lisa Banks, Joseph’s attorney, said in a statement Tuesday that Joseph’s firing was “the culmination of an unlawful campaign of retaliation against her for advocating for gender equity in athletics at Georgia Tech.” She said Joseph had been vocal about “the subpar treatment of the women’s basketball team” and that the athletic department was trying to remove her by “manufacturing allegations” and “manipulating an investigation” while denying the allegations against her. Banks also said Joseph "will continue to fight for equality in women’s athletics and for justice related to the discrimination and retaliation she has suffered at the hands of the Georgia Tech Athletic Department."

In her response to the report, Joseph said the report’s conclusions were “based on vague statements from unidentified players and staff” and also claimed the school was attempting to “silence [her] complaints of gender inequity and retaliation.” Joseph said in her response that she had spoken with the school about disparities between the men’s and women’s basketball teams and the school had “attempted to silence” her and engaged in a “pattern of ongoing retaliation and harassment, baselessly accusing [her] of wrongdoing and attempting to interfere with [her] team and [her] players.”

Joseph also said in the response that when she was interviewed, the investigator “did not reveal the specific allegations against [her] and did not provide [her] the opportunity to respond to or rebut any of those allegations,” and that she was only given two business days to respond when the report was given.

Joseph also said in the response that though people may call her coaching “tough,” she had never been accused of being abusive. She also clarified or denied statements that the report said that she made to her players and listed text messages and emails with her players and parents that she said the investigator never asked for.

“Georgia Tech has been my home for the past 18 years, and the players and the staff have been my family,” Joseph said in a statement after her dismissal. “I have so many great memories of the amazing journey we have been on with this program. I will be forever grateful for all of the young women who took a chance on Tech and on me. They have forever changed this program and my life.”

In 16 seasons as head coach of the Yellow Jackets women’s basketball team, Joseph led the team to 11 postseason appearances, including seven NCAA tournaments, and was the winningest coach in program history, according to her biography on the athletic department website.

The Yellow Jackets finished the 2018-19 season with a 17-13 overall record.

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