Labor & Employment

Accused of Discrimination, Football Coach Sues for Libel, Is Accused of Retaliation

After an attorney for a longtime worker at the University of New Mexico spoke to a local newspaper about her client’s discrimination lawsuit against a well-known football coach and the university, he sued the lawyer and her client for defamation.

Now attorney Whitney Warner is threatening to pursue a retaliation claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against coach Mike Locksley because of the libel suit, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

“It is a shame that Mr. Locksley, as an official of one of our public universities, is attempting to make citizens pay a price for speaking out on matters of public concern relating to his official conduct,” she says in a written statement. It characterizes the defamation case as an attempt to intimidate her client, 54-year-old Sylvia Lopez, from asserting her civil rights.

Lopez had been employed by the university for more than 25 years. She claims she was fired at least in part because the coach, who is now 39, wanted younger, prettier women in the office to help recruit football players. The university says Lopez retired.

In his lawsuit this week, which was filed by attorney Turner Branch, Locksley contends that Warner’s earlier comments in an article published on Monday were made “with the sole purpose to force a settlement or early resolution to defendant Lopez’s EEOC claim,” the newspaper reports.

Branch also contends that Warner’s remarks created “extortive pressure” to force a settlement, reports the Associated Press.

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