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A Row Over "Reverse-Discrimination"

An assistant rowing coach has filed a complaint of reverse-discrimination against the University, charging that he was passed over for the job of head women's coach because he is a man.
   In his complaint filed last October with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Andrew Medcalf, assistant coach of men's heavyweight crew, argues that he was the best-qualified person for the job -- not Barb Kirch, CGS'84, the candidate Penn selected.
   "We believe the charge made by Andy Medcalf is absolutely without merit, and we intend to defend [against] it vigorously," said Kenneth Wildes, director of University communications. "That said, I would add that we are very, very comfortable with our choice. We think that Barb Kirch is one of the premier coaches in the country." Kirch, a two-time Olympian, was head women's rowing coach at Dartmouth College for nine years before taking the job at Penn.
   According to the complaint, Stanley Bergman, director of rowing, had recommended Medcalf for the position last June after reviewing numerous other applications; but he was advised that Penn could not hire a man for the position and was told to solicit applications from additional women candidates.
   Medcalf, who has 15 years of coaching experience, including seven years at Penn, charges that later in the month, Carolyn Schlie Femovich, senior associate director of athletics, told him, "We're going to get a woman at least as good as you, if not better." When two members of the Women's Rowing team also urged that Medcalf be hired, Femovich "advised them of her intention to hire a female coach so that women rowers could have a 'strong female role model.'" After the University interviewed three more candidates, Kirch was hired in July.
   "Although the women rowers on Penn's team wanted the best available coach and are entitled to the best available coach, Penn apparently considered it more important that they have a strong female role model," said Lawrence Woehrle, Medcalf's attorney.
   "Penn had issued a very detailed description for the job in which Penn declared itself to be an equal opportunity employer, and not a single word in there suggests that the candidate had to be a strong female role model or anything but a strong, experienced coach qualified to direct and manage the women's team. [Medcalf] was the superior candidate, and that wasn't just his opinion but the opinion of the director of rowing, who recommended him for that position."
   Femovich could not be reached for comment, and Bergman and Kirch both declined comment. "This is an issue between Andy and the administration, not between Andy and me," said Kirch.
   While at Dartmouth, her varsity-eight boat won the bronze medal at the 1996 and 1997 Eastern Sprints, and in 1997, her team earned a bid to the first NCAA Women's Rowing National Championship in California. Kirch is also head coach of the U.S. Junior Women's National Team. She finished sixth in the pairs at the 1988 Olympics and fifth in the same event in the 1984 Olympics. She also placed third in the World Championship doubles for the U.S. National Rowing team in 1987 and placed second in the World Championship four-with-coxswain for the U.S. team in 1982.
   Before coming to Penn, Medcalf served as head coach of the Vesper Boat Club in Philadelphia, and as a head coach at the University of Rochester, University of London, and Michigan State University. He won two British National Championships himself, and coached crews to three British National Championships, the Eastern Sprints Championship, the U.S. National Collegiate Championship, and other competitions. Medcalf also holds a Ph.D. in cancer research and teaches biology at Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science.
   Although Medcalf's attorney has already supplied a copy of the complaint, Penn won't respond until it receives an official version from the EEOC, Wildes said. At that point, it will have 30 days to do so.

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Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 3/12/98