Cynthia Reynolds, formerly the North Carolina football team's academic coordinator, last month filed an age discrimination grievance against the school with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
"I think it's important to make the point that even though I was an 'at-will' employee, you can't get rid of somebody [because] you want someone younger in the position,'' she said. "There are policies, and you have to follow them."
Reynolds, now 56, was hired in 2002 as an associate director of the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes, where she primarily worked with the football program until she was reassigned to Olympic sports in August 2009. She was not renewed in August 2010.
In documents describing her grievance, the school states that Reynolds was reassigned because of two incidents: a football player was originally deemed academically ineligible for fall 2008 as a result of misadvising; and a secondary violation was reported to the NCAA after 18 incoming freshmen football players in July 2009 were not enrolled in enough summer school hours. (Ultimately, according to the documents, the NCAA did not hold any of the student-athletes responsible for the errors, and all kept their eligibility.)
But Reynolds - who said those incidents wouldn't have happened if the school had a better system of checks and balances and said she wasn't solely responsible - insists she was really moved because Butch Davis, a former NFL coach who took over UNC's program in 2006, wanted a younger "face" for the academic support program for recruiting purposes.
Davis, in an e-mail to The N&O, said it is "not accurate" that Reynolds was reassigned because he wanted a younger person in her position.
"I do not have the authority to reassign anyone from the Academic Support Program," Davis wrote. "Personnel decisions within that department were made by her supervisors and not by the football staff."
Reynolds, who previously worked at Cornell, Michigan and SUNY-Buffalo, said she was replaced with then-29-year-old Beth Bridger, "an excellent learning specialist," who also was in charge of hiring and training the mentors and tutors.
Reynolds said Bridger was great with students, but "I just thought that was a heck of a role to be put in under Coach Davis, when you hire a million-dollar coach - I just think the dynamics are that you need to put experience in there."
Bridger's title is now associate director for academic support, and according to documents, she took over Reynolds' duties with the football team. The school said Bridger was not available for interviews because of the ongoing NCAA investigation.
Reynolds originally filed a grievance with the university, which was denied by the panel of the EPA Non-Faculty Grievance Committee, according to a letter she received from Chancellor Holden Thorp. In that grievance, she asked for two years of annual salary; continued health care benefits until she finds full-time employment; continued contributions to the State of North Carolina Employees Retirement plan; written letters of recommendations from her bosses, Robert Mercer and Dick Baddour; and free and unlimited outplacement/career counseling services until she gets a new job.