Former Lamar University softball coach Holly Bruder and associate head coach Allison Honkofsky filed formal appeals of their firings with the school on Wednesday, their attorney said.
Bruder was fired on Friday after refusing to resign, attorney Cade Bernsen said. The university announced that she was “removed” from her position.
Bernsen, who represents both coaches, who are married, said Honkofsky was told Friday that she could resign or be fired. Honkofsky refused to resign, he said.
Lamar declined to comment on Honkofsky’s employment status Wednesday. She was still listed on the team’s roster as of Wednesday afternoon.
The university “has refused to provide any rationale to these coaches as to why they are being targeted,” Bernsen said.
Both coaches are going to “fight back,” Bernsen said, by appealing their terminations.
According to university policy, “an appeal is an employee’s formal expression of dissatisfaction or disagreement” with probation, demotion, being put on leave or dismissed. The procedure, which is a step up from an informal grievance, is filed with the university’s human resources office and is handled by a university vice president or an advisory ad hoc appeals board.
The appeals allege that the coaches’ due process rights, guaranteed by Lamar policy and state and federal law, were violated, Bernsen said. The appeals also allege a “failure to conduct a full, complete and fair investigation” and “failure to provide notice of what these coaches are being fired for,” he said.
“In general, we believe what has happened has violated federal and state law,” Bernsen said. He declined to release copies of the appeals to avoid jeopardizing the administrative process.
Bruder’s firing came one month after the team’s former starting catcher, Paige Holmes, sent a written complaint to school officials on April 9, alleging that an assistant coach forced her to eat meat at a pre-game meal on a Lenten Friday in violation of her religious beliefs.
Four players interviewed by The Enterprise — Shelby Hughston, Kimberly Mattox, Mackenzie Futrell and Lauryn McMahon — disputed Holmes’ account of the incident and said she was not forced to eat the food.
Bruder was suspended on April 27, “pending an investigation into a violation of university policy,” according to a statement by the university’s media relations department.
In an email to Holmes provided to the Enterprise by her father, Born admitted the incident was not handled properly. “(I) am prepared to state that our university could and should have done a better job of respecting your expression of your faith,” he said.
Bernsen said the investigation was insufficient, because “Born failed to interview the players and staff that were actually there.” Born did not respond to request for comment.
He also said Born, who was hired by Lamar on March 29, “failed to confirm” whether Holmes “actually observed Lent.”
He said team players and staff have provided evidence that on other occasions, Holmes did not follow the Lenten obligations she accused the coach of forcing her to violate.
Team manager Taylor Harvill, who provided copies of team meal orders from February and March to The Enterprise, said Holmes ordered sandwiches on other occasions and consumed meat on Friday.
Bernsen called Holmes’ complaint and subsequent demands a “litigious shakedown” and accused her of previously threatening litigation against the university for unrelated claims.
“It’s an absolute bold-faced lie,” said Tim Holmes, Paige’s father. “Anyone who believes that is out of their mind. We won’t stand for that.”
“If (Bruder) wants to start going after my daughter, we will go after her,” he said.
Bernsen, who previously said Born “threw the coaches under the bus” in response to Holmes’ complaint, said the athletic director has “repeatedly criticized the ‘culture’ of the Lamar softball program.”
“He should explain what he means by culture,” Bernsen said, pointing to the team’s record of community service and academic performance under Bruder. The team won the university “Red Cup” for the fourth straight year in 2017 after completing the most community service hours of any team.
Born “issued a gag order to the team and coaching staff not to talk to the media,” Bernsen said in the statement.
Bruder, who got her 400th career victory in February, was hired as head coach at Lamar in 2011.
The softball program was revived and began playing games in 2013 after a 26-year hiatus.
This was Bruder’s 16th season as a softball coach. She was head coach at Morehead State for four seasons and at Denison University for six seasons.
Honkofsky was hired at Lamar in September 2011. She was coached by Bruder for two seasons at Morehead State, and then was hired as an assistant for two years after graduations.
Danny Shapiro contributed to this story.