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Former NC State academic support director for athletes sues school for discrimination

Jermaine Holmes, a former N.C. State academic support director for athletes, is suing the university for discrimination.
Jermaine Holmes, a former N.C. State academic support director for athletes, is suing the university for discrimination.

N.C. State’s former director of academic support for student-athletes is suing the university, claiming in a federal lawsuit he was discriminated against and harassed before being wrongly terminated in April 2015.

Jermaine Holmes, who worked at N.C. State from March 2014 to April 2015, says in the suit that he was fired by the university after he raised concerns about interns working 60 hours a week while only being paid for 40; the employment of a basketball coach’s daughter as a tutor; and the elimination of three intern positions at a time when the number of at-risk student-athletes being admitted to the school was rising.

Holmes, an African-American male, claims N.C. State discriminated against, harassed and subjected him to a hostile work environment because of his race. He was replaced by Katie Sheridan Graham, a white female.

Carrie Doyle, N.C. State’s senior associate athletics director for compliance who reports to chancellor Randy Woodson, is named as a co-defendant in the suit, along with the university and the UNC system.

Holmes, who worked in the university’s Division of Academic and Student Affairs under vice chancellor Mike Mullen, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on Monday.

In a statement to The News and Observer, N.C. State chief communications and marketing officer Brad Bohlander said the university is confident it handled Holmes' employment properly. He said Holmes previously filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against N.C. State on Sept. 29, 2015. The EEOC dismissed the complaint on March 11, 2016.

"While NC State has not been served with the lawsuit," Bohlander said in the statement. "Jermaine Holmes has made claims in the past which have proven unfounded. Several years ago, he filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge of discrimination against NC State which was dismissed by the agency. All action taken in regard to Mr. Holmes' employment at NC State was a direct result of his performance. NC State disputes his current claims and is confident that we'll successfully defend this lawsuit in court.

Robert Lewis, Jr., Holmes' Raleigh-based attorney, wrote in an email to The News & Observer on Thursday that the EEOC dismissal has no impact on the current lawsuit.

"An EEOC dismissal is not a dismissal in the ordinary course of the word," Lewis wrote. "An EEOC dismissal means the EEOC’s limited investigation cannot determine whether N.C. State’s behavior arose to the level of discrimination or any other wrong doing (no smoking gun). As such if there is not enough evidence from the EEOC’s investigation for the EEOC to sue N.C. State on behalf of the complainant the EEOC will issue a Right to Sue Letter giving the complainant the right to sue in Federal Court.

"The EEOC dismissal has nothing to do with Mr. Holmes’ Federal court case."

Holmes claims he did not receive training or coaching from N.C. State like his counterparts who were not African-American.

While assessing his department upon being hired in 2014, Holmes said he discovered that Christina Lutz, daughter of Bobby Lutz, who was at the time a men’s basketball associate head coach, had been hired as a tutor on Aug. 23, 2013. Holmes emailed several athletic department officials, including athletic director Debbie Yow and Doyle, to point out the hiring violated N.C. State’s best practices and conflict of interest policies, the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, Holmes said he met with N.C. State’s human resources department about tutors working 60 hours and being paid for 40, which violated federal labor laws. He wrote and distributed via email a Tutor Oversight Report detailing what he believed to be integrity issues that could lead to NCAA violations.

Holmes in the lawsuit said during a Dec. 2014 meeting that Yow was “visibly upset” with him for emailing the Tutor Oversight Report. She told Holmes he should have met directly or called to discuss the matter. Holmes said he was “verbally reprimanded” for emailing the report.

The lawsuit also details Holmes' concerns about at-risk student-athletes not receiving necessary academic support. He pointed out, in June 2014, that from the fall of 2009 to spring 2014, the school admitted 60 student-athletes who fall into an at-risk group. Another 13-15 were expected to be enrolled for the fall 2014 semester.

Holmes told his superiors that using tutors to work with those students was not a best practice. Instead, he said the department needed a full-time learning specialist to work with them on a daily basis.

According to the lawsuit, Holmes also fought to keep three interns, who had worked specifically with the football and men’s basketball team during the 2013-14 academic year. Holmes said Yow rejected his request.

Holmes said in the lawsuit that after he attended a management meeting with Yow, Doyle and vice chancellor Mike Mullen where he pointed out integrity issues and deficiencies within the academic support program, he began to be treated differently.

Holmes is seeking damages that will “deter such wrongdoing in the future.”