A Bronx, New York college is being sued by its former wrestling coach for age discrimination because it hired younger applicants for associate athletic director positions instead of him. He also claims that the situation amounted to constructive discharge.
Robert Dean Zenie was hired by the College of Mount Saint Vincent (CMSV) as assistant athletic director/wrestling coach in August 2015, according to the complaint. He claims that he “had been involved with the sport of wrestling for over 30 years” and also “had over 25 years of managerial experience.”
Zenie claims that, at the time he was hired, he observed that other members of the coaching staff were quite young and lacked management experience, something he claimed was necessary for either an associate or assistant athletic director position. He also claims that many of the younger coaches “would seek him out for advice with respect to the administrative duties that went with being a coach.”
Zenie claims that, in 2016 and 2017, at the end of the wrestling seasons, he received positive performance reviews, including a “very good” relating to motivating and leading subordinates and deal with personnel issues.
In early 2017 an associate athletic director, Barima Yeboah, who was also Zenie’s supervisor, was promoted to athletic director. This left his previous position, as well as another associate athletic director slot, open.
In March 2017, James Mooney, who was in his early thirties, was being considered for one of the associate athletic director positions, despite what Zenie believed was his “lack of adminstrative/mangerial experience.”
In April, Zenie asked human resources why someone with Mooney’s lack of managerial experience was being considered for an associate position, but received no response.
In May 2017 Mooney was hired as an associate athletic director. Mooney was now Zenie’s immediate supervisor. Zenie claims that Mooney “would routinely come to [him] for advice and guidance on how to do his job, a paradigm that only exacerbated an already tense situation,” according to the complaint.
Zenie asked to be considered for the other associate position but, again, received no immediate response.
When Zenie became aware of a loan having been made to a member of the soccer team by the father of a former soccer coach in August 2017, a major NCAA violation, he urged the new men’s soccer coach to report it to Yeboah. After doing so, the coach told Zenie that “not only was Yeboah aware of the earlier loan, but that he had approved it,” the complaint states.
The matter was later reported to the NCAA and Zenie was interviewed as part of its investigation and told officials that Yeboah had been implicated in the loan infraction. He “also testified that he considered Yeboah to be incompetent and unable to adequately perform the job function of an Athletic Director because of his own lack of experience,” according to the complaint.
Zenie claims he then experienced adverse consequences. When he volunteered to fill in as golf coach while the search was conducted “Yeboah nixed the idea immediately.”
Zenie’s budget for the 2017-18 wrestling season was substantially lower than what he had requested. He claims the budget should have been higher because overall school enrollment was up, his roster had increased, the team was scheduled to have more away events and needed to spend more on transportation. He also claimed he was assigned more administrative duties, but without receiving a promotion.
Zenie “viewed these actions by Yeboah as intending to frustrate his abilities to succeed in his job.”
On September 1, 2017 Zenie met with the dean of students; Yeboah was also in attendance. They discussed a logistical issue with regard to the school vans and arrived at a solution.
Zenie then asked to speak to the dean alone and Yeboah left. Zenie expressed his concerns about Yeboah, that he was not providing leadership to the athletic department and was punishing Zenie because he was “older and much more experienced.” He also complained that Yeboah treated him in a grossly disrespectful manner especially in front of the younger coaching staff, which was humiliating. He further advised the dean that he should have been considered for an associate athletic director position because of his experience. The dean did not respond to his complaints.
Instead, on September 5, 2017 Zenie received a letter from the dean that he claims “mentioned nothing about what was actually discussed at the prior meeting.” Instead it discussed “concerns regarding your performance and attitude.” It instructed him to no longer respond to inquiries from other coaches outside of his current duties pertaining to facilities and operations.
Zenie claims these events constituted constructive discharge: “It became apparent to Zenie that the hostility he was feeling from Yeboah was now extended to the administration and that it would not only continue but would escalate, thus making it impossible for him to do his job as Assistant Athletic Director and Head Wrestling Coach.” He also believed that, with that negative letter on his record, he was unlikely to be promoted.
Zenie is representing himself and has filed the action in the Southern District of New York.