By: Jonathan Fernandez, Jordan Hom, SSW
On Monday, April 20, Giuliana Mendiola, a former assistant coach of the UCR women’s basketball team, filed a lawsuit against the UC Board of Regents, UCR Athletics, UCR Athletic Director Tamica Smith-Jones and John Margaritis, the former head coach of the women’s basketball team.
According to the lawsuit, Mendiola believes she was mistreated by Margaritis because of her gender and because she stood up for her players when they were chastised. Former players who played for Margaritis have attested to how the coach would berate and belittle them, often by using gendered or inappropriate slurs.
The suit states that in the summer of 2016, Margaritis informed Mendiola that he was planning to retire within seven years and that he believed she was the best candidate to take over the program, but he refused to promote her to the position of associate head coach.
After returning from maternity leave in June of 2017, the lawsuit stated that Margaritis told Mendiola he was upset with her for not working and staying in contact with him during her leave. He also informed Mendiola that he reported her to the senior woman administrator, a high-ranking female official that promotes representation of women in the leadership and management of collegiate athletics, for not staying in contact.
Smith-Jones told Mendiola in private that she would be taking over the head coach position and asked her to keep it to herself in December of 2018. Mendiola continued trying to advocate to Smith-Jones about Margaritis’ mistreatment of female athletes in January of 2019 but was told not to speak up about those instances. Smith-Jones encouraged Mendiola to keep her thoughts to herself and not go public with them.
On March 15, 2019, Margaritis asked Mendiola to sign an agreement not to get pregnant again, but she refused. According to the lawsuit, she felt as though her job depended on her signing the agreement. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers are not allowed to discriminate against an employee based on current or future pregnancy.
Mendiola was interviewed as a part of an investigation into Margaritis’ misconduct on April 18, 2019. She confirmed the reports of misconduct given by student-athletes, but she withheld detail about his mistreatment of her, per Smith-Jones’ request.
Margaritis was issued a 20-day suspension without pay on Aug. 2, 2019. Following local reporting of the issue, the university placed him on unpaid leave on Sept. 12 before he resigned on Sept. 13, 2019.
Mendiola is seeking injunctive relief from the court to reinstate her with all pay, benefits, seniority and emoluments of that position. Additionally, Mendiola is pursuing compensatory damages for past and future lost wages and benefits, general damages for emotional distress and suffering, special damages for out-of-pocket expenses and punitive damages against each individually named defendant in an amount appropriate to punish the defendant(s) and deter others from engaging in similar misconduct. Mendiola is also seeking attorney fees.
In a statement given to The Highlander, UCR Athletics stated: “We are aware of the lawsuit that has been filed. However, we do not comment on pending litigation.”