The Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center at Colby College opened in the fall 2020. Six of the college’s female coaches have filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission alleging, among other things, a disparity in pay and bonuses. Photo submitted by Colby College

WATERVILLE — Six female coaches at Colby College have filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, alleging they are paid significantly less than their male counterparts and that they were told male coaches had “higher market value.”

Furthermore, the coaches accuse the private Waterville college of providing its men’s athletic teams with more resources than the female teams.

The six head coaches who have filed the complaint are: Terren Allen, softball; Tracey Cote, Nordic skiing; Karen Henning, women’s lacrosse; Kristin Shaw, women’s soccer; Kelly Terwilliger, field hockey; and Holley Tyng, women’s ice hockey.

The complaint of discrimination was filed and received by the Maine Human Rights Commission on March 22. If the complaint gets to the investigation phase, it’s possible a decision could not be made for another year or two.

The coaches declined comment through their attorney Kelly Hoffman.

Colby College and the coaches issued a one-paragraph joint statement Friday evening, saying: “All parties involved in the matter before the Maine Human Rights Commission are currently working together productively and collaboratively, and abiding by the confidentiality rules based on the ongoing nature of the situation.”

Colby College later submitted a statement on its own, saying the college “is deeply committed to creating a fair and equitable workplace and believes these allegations deserve thorough examination. We have been engaged in an internal investigation and have been working productively and collaboratively with the coaches and other parties to determine the facts and understand the concerns.”

“It is unfortunate,” Colby’s statement continued, “that this matter was disclosed in violation of the confidentiality rules of the Maine Human Rights Commission, especially since the College and the coaches had pledged to work together privately to determine the merit of these claims and had been doing so for several months. Every Colby employee is a valued member of our community, and our educational mission would be impossible to achieve without them. We will continue to support our employees to the best of our ability including providing the necessary resources for them to be successful.”

The allegations come as the school is still touting its new $200 million athletic complex, which opened in the fall 2020.

Each of the complaints filed by the six coaches detail their shared grievances, as well as individual examples of what they see as violations of state and federal discrimination laws.

“Title IX and federal and Maine state laws were enacted to end gender discrimination in all educational programs, including coaching or athletics generally,” Hoffman said in an emailed statement. “Indeed, these laws have given women the chance to excel and to take their rightful place as leaders and achievers on campuses across the USA. The Charges of Discrimination speak for themselves and these coaches’ compensation should (be) based upon their skills and abilities, not their sex.”

Amy Sneirson, executive director of the Maine Human Rights Commission, said her organization received almost 800 complaints last year, with approximately 250 reaching the investigation stage. Most cases are dismissed, settled or mediated before reaching the investigation phase, Sneirson said.

The respondent, in this case Colby College, has approximately 60 days to offer a response to the initial complaint, Sneirson said. Once that response is filed, the party that made the initial complaint has approximately 60 days to comment. Once the investigation is conducted by one of the commission’s six investigators and is completed, the parties may agree or disagree with the findings in writing, and a public hearing can be held with the five commissioners for a final decision.

Commission findings are not law but may become grounds for lawsuits.

Sneirson on Friday declined to say if Colby has filed its response, but added that the process can take between 18 months and two years to complete.

In the complaint, the coaches claim that when confronted with coaching salary discrepancies between male and female coaches, Colby officials said male coaches receive more robust compensation because they have been better at negotiating higher salary and benefits packages. The complaints also allege the women were told male coaches have a higher “market value.”

No salaries are cited in any of the complaints, and Hoffman — the attorney representing the coaches — declined to provide details.

However, the complaint outlined several anecdotal examples. For example, Terwilliger alleges she is paid $60,000 per year less than some male Colby coaches. Henning, head women’s lacrosse coach at Colby since 2007, stated in her complaint that there are male coaches at Colby who make “at least $15,000.00 or more than I do, but do not have my history of success in athletics.”

Henning’s teams have participated in the NCAA Division III women’s lacrosse quarterfinals four times and reached the Sweet 16 three times.

Henning specifically cited the 2017 NCAA tournament, in which her Mules won the New England Small College Athletic Conference championship, and with it, the right to host an NCAA tournament regional.

It was a right, the complaint reads, that Colby declined to secure because of conflicts with a collegiate baseball game.

“Playing at home would have a home field advantage, not required us to travel, and allowed us to play a less competitive opponent, none of which happened,” Henning’s statement reads. “Colby College failed to host the tournament because of a competing men’s baseball tournament. For all practical purposes, Colby College’s failure to host the tournament was an unreasonable obstacle put in the way of our team’s success.”

Cote, who was hired in 1997 to coach both the men’s and women’s Nordic ski teams, is the longest-serving active coach at Colby. In her complaint, Cote cited the 33 Colby Nordic skiers she’s coached who have qualified for the Division I national championships, as well as three All-American skiers. Cote also cited Colby’s practice of bonuses for coaches whose teams win the NESCAC championship.

“As the coach of a Division I program, I do not participate in the NESCAC and am unable to receive a bonus due to the limiting criteria set by the administration,” Cote’s complaint reads. “When I questioned why I have not received a bonus for producing All-American athletes, which is more prestigious than winning a NESCAC, I was told that the criteria for bonuses would be ‘looked into’ moving forward.”

Shaw, the Colby women’s soccer coach, alleged she was criticized by the administration for the number of tie games (draws) that her team has played, and she was asked to focus on turning those ties into wins. Conversely, Shaw wrote, the men’s soccer team intentionally played to a draw in order to win a match on penalty kicks, and was not counseled to win matches instead of playing for a tie in order to exploit an overtime advantage.

Terwilliger’s complaint states that when Colby began construction of its new athletic center, it put the field hockey team at a competitive disadvantage when it did not replace the artificial field the team previously played on. Seven of the 10 teams in the NESCAC currently play on turf, Terwilliger’s statement reads.

“Playing field hockey on surfaces other than AstroTurf lacks in competition today,” Terwilliger’s statement to the Maine Human Rights Commission said. “Had I been coaching male athletes in which the top competitors in the NESCAC used AstroTurf as the surface of play, Colby College would have, without question, installed the necessary playing surface turf.”

This story was later updated to include a new statement from Colby College. 

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