Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Filed After Cal Women’s Water Polo Coach Fired

Richard Corso, former Cal women’s water polo coach, filed a California wrongful termination lawsuit against Athletic Director Mike Williams, Senior Associate Athletic Director Jenny Simon-O’Neill and Associate Athletic Director of Compliance Jay Larson. Corso seeks $1.38 million in lost wages.

In the suit, Corso alleges gender and age discrimination in the wrongful termination suit. Corso also alleges that in 2015, Simon-O’Neill, a senior woman administrator, said that the administrators were looking for the team to be led by a young woman. According to the suit, before the meeting the former Cal athletic director, Sandy Barbour, said she wanted to see women coaching women.  After the suit was filed, Cal Athletics denied the allegations, calling them false and/or fictitious.

Two months after 62-year old Corso resigned, the Bears hired 39-year old Coralie Simmons. Prior to being hired at Cal, Simmons led Sonoma State. Cal Athletics claims that their search included both male and female candidates. Simmons is currently the only female head water polo coach in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

The wrongful termination lawsuit lists the UC Board of Regents and UC Berkeley as defendants and describes an internal inquiry into the training practices used by the water polo team in accordance with NCAA bylaws. According to the lawsuit, Larson told Corso in March 2015 of over-training violation suspicions. Two months later, O’Neill received an allegation regarding the potential over-training violations that led to an internal inquiry. Further in the lawsuit, it is alleged that the internal inquiry/investigation quickly turned into a crusade against Corso even though the eventual conclusion was that the allegations were “meaningless.”

Cal Athletics suggests differently, stating that the allegations were, in fact, indicative of very serious violations and that the NCAA Enforcement staff initially considered the case as a Level II violation prior to determining that it should be handled as a Level III. They further described the investigation as being “self-reported” to the NCAA and that at its conclusion; it resulted in a reduction of 48 hours of practice time.

Corso alleges that he exhibited exceptional performance, but was mistreated in spite of his record. He cites his 227-98 record as well as the team’s improved graduation rate. Corso took over the Bears in 2005. At that time, the team was described as “lacking” both in academic and athletic standards. The peak of Corso’s Cal career was in 2011 when the Bears advanced to the final game of the NCAA Championships where they lost to UCLA. The Bears are currently 9-1 in their current season, led by new head coach Simmons.

If you have questions regarding what constitutes wrongful termination, please get in touch with one of the experienced southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.