Buckets of Data

June 4, 1997

Globe and Mail, 4 June 1997: Parents defend SFU swim coach Instructor

Filed under: Uncategorized — bucketsdata @ 2:27 pm

Parents defend SFU swim coach Instructor fired after allegations of sexual harassment; athletes, parents set up legal fund
BY ROBERT MATAS

The Globe and Mail 4 June 1997 A5

VANCOUVER — Several parents in British Columbia say Simon Fraser University made a mistake firing swim coach Liam Donnelly after an investigation into charges of sexual harassment.

They say they have no qualms allowing their children to train with Mr. Connelly.

“The university has messed up royally,” said Ken Robertson, past president of the Hyack Swim Club, whose daughter, Lisa, trained with Mr. Donnelly.

“I think it’s clear, the story is backwards,” said Mr. Robertson in an interview yesterday. “Liam Donnelly did not do the harassing; it was the other way around.”

Members of the SFU swim team, fellow athletes, former athletes and their parents have set up a fund to help Mr. Donnelly pay legal bills from his fight to regain his job. The fund was announced by his lawyer, Loryl Russell, who said she expects “a long and expensive legal battle.”

Mr. Robertson said he is convinced that a young swimmer had a crush on Mr. Donnelly and the coach did not respond to her overtures. “This is the result of a relationship that was only in her mind,” Mr. Robertson said.

A coach at SFU for four years, Mr. Donnelly, 29, has led swimmers to 15 national championships and seven Canadian national medals. He was selected as SFU coach of the year in 1994.

SFU president John Stubbs dismissed Mr. Donnelly 10 days ago after a formal investigation into a complaint from former SFU swimmer Rachel Marsden, who is now 22. The allegation does not deal with the coach-swimmer relation, however, the university maintains that its policies apply to its employees even if the accuser is not a member of the university community.

Although the university refused to release any details about the alleged harassment, Ms. Marsden has told a Vancouver newspaper that Mr. Donnelly had a relationship with her between the spring of 1994 and the fall of 1995 and forced her to have sex.

Ms. Marsden did not respond yesterday to a request for an interview.

Mr. Donnelly has unequivocally denied Ms. Marsden’s statements. “I have never had any sort of intimate relationship with her or any other athlete I was coaching,” he has told reporters.

The university’s investigative committee heard evidence from Ms. Marsden and others but not from Mr. Donnelly, who was advised by his lawyer not to participate.

However, Mr. Stubbs heard from both Mr. Donnelly and Ms. Marsden before confirming the committee’s conclusion that Mr. Donnelly had violated the university’s harassment policy.

Although Mr. Donnelly has lost his chance to overturn the committee’s conclusion, he asked the university yesterday to appoint an arbitration board to review the president’s decision to fire him and to rule on whether Mr. Stubbs exercised reasonable judgment.

Ken Radford, executive director of Swim B.C., said in an interview that Mr. Donnelly had a very good reputation as a swimming coach. However, the provincial organization, which is the governing body for swimming in B.C., was not consulted during the investigation of the harassment allegations.

Mr. Donnelly began coaching at the Hyack swim club in September, 1990, and was hired as a SFU assistant coach in September, 1992. Ms. Marsden trained at the Hyack swim club with Mr. Donnelly until the end of 1991, when her family hired a lawyer to complain about his coaching style. The swimming club stood behind Mr. Donnelly.

Despite her complaints, Ms. Marsden tried out for the SFU swim team in the fall of 1993 but quit after a few weeks.

Both Ms. Marsden and Mr. Donnelly filed formal complaints in late 1995 with the SFU harassment office and with the RCMP. The police have not laid any charges and Mr. Donnelly decided to withdraw from the SFU proceedings.

SFU’s harassment policy, which was adopted in 1989, is currently under review. But the review has nothing to do with the Marsden-Donnelly case, said university spokesman Ken Mennell.

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