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Former WVU Athletics employee sues university for gender discrimination

MORGANTOWN — A former WVU Athletics employee, who was working her “dream job,” is suing for gender discrimination, saying the department had a “good old boy” culture.
The suit, brought by Dia Fortney, names the WVU Board of Governors, the WVU Board of Governors doing business as WVU Athletics and Mike Szul, individually. Szul was Fortney’s direct supervisor, according to the suit. He is a senior associate athletic director for finance, administration and planning at Rutgers University, according to the suit. Fortney was the assistant athletic director for business operation in WVU Athletics’ Business Office from July 2011 to June 2016.
WVU Spokesperson John Bolt said Szul left for the Rutgers’ position in May 2017.
The suit also argues that WVU Athletics is not confined by the limits of insurance as it is a business in all but name, and is not covered by the sovereign immunity granted by Article VI, Section 35 of the West Virginia Constitution.
“Without addressing the specific claims of harassment or other employment issues raised in the Fortney suit, there are other assertions that go well beyond those issues, which are not only irrelevant to the complaint, but a clear attempt to distract from the allegations in the lawsuit,” Bolt said.
The lawsuit says that throughout Fortney’s employment, she was subjected to “unending discriminatory language and actions, which culminated in her ultimate termination as a result of her gender and/or her opposition to Szul’s conduct.”
The suit states Szul created a hostile work environment and fostered a “good old boy” culture in his department. He complained about the number of women working in the department and about being “outnumbered.” Szul asked Fortney about her personal romantic relationships and probed for details of her social life, took her long-distance phone bill and called several numbers on it in an attempt to find her boyfriend. The suit said he did not treat male employees in the same manner.
In December 2015, Fortney reported Szul’s behavior to Keli Zinn, deputy athletic director, and was told, “I can get H.R. in here, but then I don’t know what’s going to happen, or you can just figure out how to deal with it.”
Fortney was also scolded for not being a team player, according to the lawsuit.
Director of Athletics Shane Lyons told several head coaches and office heads, “It’s Mike [Szul]’s call,” according to the suit.
Fortney was replaced by a man with less experience and given a salary $30,000 higher than Fortney earned, the suit says.
Fortney has not been able to find a job in the same field since her termination and is currently employed at a lower salary than she received at WVU. As a result of the unlawful termination, Fortney has suffered lost wages, mental anguish, embarrassment, annoyance, inconvenience, attorney’s fees and expenses.