LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – A national expert in law related to sexual harassment says MSU’s move to end Mel Tucker’s contract was “the right thing to do.”
Wendy Murphy has been litigating sexual harassment cases for decades. She’s a professor at the New England Law School in Boston. She also co-directs the school’s Women’s and Children’s Advocacy Project, under the Center for Law and Responsibility.
In an interview with 6 News, she says the letter severing the employment contract with former MSU Football Coach Mel Tucker on Wednesday was a “surprise.”
“Basically, firing Tucker and even depriving him of a hearing we all thought was going to take place because [the letter] was so brief, it was so abrupt, and to the point, um, it just said a lot to me about how utterly preposterous and how unconvincing his responses were.”
On Sept. 18 MSU Athletic Director Alan Haller sent a letter to Tucker notifying him the University intended to end his contract – valued at over $80 million – for cause related to sexual harassment allegations. Tucker had been on unpaid suspension from his post since Sept. 10 when USA Today published a story detailing the allegations by anti-sexual harassment and anti-rape educator Brenda Tracy against Tucker.
Tucker’s attorneys responded to the notice to terminate the contract Tuesday with a 12-page letter accompanied by a 13-page expert opinion.
Murphy says that all amounted to nothing.
“They were very long,” she says of the letter from Tucker’s team. “There was a lot of legal mumbo jumbo in there, but at the end of the day, it didn’t say very much. And that’s reflected in the brevity of MSU’s response.”
Tucker has alleged MSU moved to end his contract in part as an overreaction born from the Nassar scandal.
“There’s no question what happened with Larry Nassar and MSU is still on everybody’s mind — as it should be,” she says. “But in no way are they just trying to make up for that. This is such an overwhelming case in terms of the impropriety of Tucker’s behavior.”
She says the Nassar case taught MSU a “very hard lesson.”
“If you don’t act swiftly the first time you’re supposed to things get very, very bad for universities, and by no means is MSU the only school that tried to brush one under the rug, if you will,” she says. “They brushed lots of cases under the rug with Nassar, and they’re not going to do that anymore. And for good reason. It’s not only going to cost them a lot of money, it will cost them their reputation. If there’s one thing MSU made clear in its letter today, it’s that it cares about its reputation.”
Had there been any grounds for controversy, she says, Tucker would have been owed a due process hearing before a final termination action was taken.
“There’s no debate that you cannot expect to keep your job at a university after making sexual comments, flirting, and masturbating on the phone to an MSU vendor,” says Murphy. “Period. End of discussion. There is no room for debate or discussion. And, and equally clear, that behavior subjects MSU to disrespect and ridicule. Something not only that MSU doesn’t want, but that if–and if an MSU employee engages in such behavior, that’s grounds for immediate termination.”
Murphy says the conduct Tucker admitted to engaging in, including sexual conversations with Tracy and lying to investigators, was unacceptable.
“The behavior that Tucker engaged in is beyond reproach,” she says. “I mean, there’s just nothing, there’s nothing, nothing that Tucker is accused of that would be acceptable to a university that cares about its reputation. So, you know, MSU, really, not only had no choice, but this is the right thing to do.”
While MSU had grounds to terminate the contract, Murphy warned Tucker could still sue.
“Now that doesn’t mean he won’t file a lawsuit, maybe he will, but you can tell MSU feels very confident that they’ve done the right thing and that they’re, even if they get sued, they’re going to be dismissive of his claims in that very lengthy response he sent in,” she says. “This really isn’t the kind of case where there’s a doubt about what’s going to happen in the end. If he sues MSU will win.”