POCATELLO — A former Idaho State University softball coach is suing the university over her apparent firing.
ISU, along with University President Kevin Satterlee and Athletic Director Pauline Thiros, are among the defendants in a lawsuit filed in November.
Documents filed on behalf of Jamie Wiggins claim that ISU, Satterlee, Thiros, the ISU Board of Trustees and the Idaho State Board of Education committed several rights violations when Wiggins was terminated. Wiggins’ First Amendment rights, as well as her right to freely exercise her religion and her protections as a public employee, were among those violated, according to the documents.
Those rights were allegedly violated when Wiggins was fired for offering to adopt the newborn child of one of the university’s softball players.
Wiggins was appointed to the softball coaching staff in the summer of 2021, according to court documents. The appointment came in the form of a 10-month contract offer, which took effect on July 21, 2021.
After learning one of the players was pregnant with an unintended baby and in need of assistance in April 2022, Wiggins came to the player’s aid.
On May 10, the player, who was not named in the court documents, underwent an emergency delivery due to medical circumstances affecting the fetus. For health reasons, the baby, born prematurely, was taken to the Portneuf Medical Center Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for medical care.
Those medical issues ultimately led to the baby’s death on July 28.
After the baby was born, but before its death, the mother asked Wiggins and her husband if they would adopt the baby. The Wiggins family agreed.
“The decision of plaintiff and her husband Greg Wiggins to offer to adopt the baby was an exercise of their Christian faith,” court documents say. “Plaintiff’s religious beliefs dictate the care of orphans in their distress when called upon, with a recognition of harsh consequences for not doing so.”
Wiggins asked the mother to inform her parents of the pregnancy and birth but left the final decision regarding that issue to the mother, court records show.
Following the birth, Wiggins informed an ISU athletic department administrator of the birth and her plan to adopt the baby. The administrator did not advise against the intended plan, the documents say.
On May 14, Wiggins received a call from Thiros. During the call, Wiggins discussed the situation and informed Thiros of her plan to adopt the child. Shortly thereafter, Thiros requested Wiggins join her and a member of the university administration for a meeting.
During the meeting, Wiggins claims Thiros and the administrator requested information about the student-athlete and her pregnancy, indicating that they planned to call the student’s parents.
“While the Wiggins hoped that the birth mother would tell her parents, they respected her autonomy to make this difficult decision on her own without interference or coercion,” the documents say.
Wiggins expressed her feelings to the administrators. Documents say Thiros told her to “join the team” regarding telling the parents of the mother. Wiggins objected to the idea and ended the meeting.
After the meeting, Thiros informed Wiggins that she requested permission from Satterlee to fire Wiggins over the matter but said Satterlee did not approve of the decision, the documents claim.
Wiggins met with the head coach of the softball team the following day to discuss plans for the team going forward. The two discussed a recruitment plan and Wiggins’ role on the coaching staff for the following season.
One week later, though, Wiggins was informed by Thiros that she was to be removed from her role and would not receive a contract extension. According to the filings, Thiros informed Wiggins that the decision was based on her offer to adopt the baby.
In the filings, Wiggins’ attorney, Emily Mac Master, claims that Satterlee later approved the firing. Additionally, Mac Master claims that Wiggins did not receive a 60-day notice that the university would not be tendering a contract extension.
The lawsuit claims that the defendants violated Wiggins’ protections as a public employee of the state, her state right to exercise her religion and her first amendment right to free practice of religion. It also names Satterlee and Thiros only in violations to Wiggins’ 14th amendment rights to due process and liberty — claiming the firing had an adverse effect on her “good professional name.”
The university and its board of trustees are named in a breach of written contract and good-faith dealing.
In total, the lawsuit alleges seven legal violations and demands a jury trial to settle the matters.
ISU provided EastIdahoNews.com with a statement regarding the matter.
“While Idaho State University does not normally comment on the specifics of pending litigation, the university will state unequivocally that the health and safety of its students are always its first priority,” the statement says. “The university is committed to taking action to protect its students whenever necessary.
“The university CARES team, a group of university professionals trained to assess the needs of students and determine how to support them, regularly convenes to provide guidance in an emergency situation and determine whether there is an immediate threat of harm to a student’s physical or emotional health. This team is well-equipped to marshal university resources in support of pregnant students and new parents. The University CARES team was very involved in this matter.
“Given the context and facts of this situation and the university’s duty to intervene in actual or perceived conflicts of interest between students and authority figures, when the plaintiff’s contract expired, the university chose not to renew the plaintiff’s one-year contract for another year.
“The university always has the best interests of the student as its sole motivation. Any allegation that the university’s actions were motivated by other reasons is patently false. The university stands by its decision and plans to vigorously defend against this litigation.”
The lawsuit was filed at the Bannock County Courthouse on Nov. 21 and has not yet been scheduled for an initial hearing.