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Auburn facing a lawsuit after allegedly changing a grade for a football player in 2019

Travis Thomas Sr., a former director of academic support services in Auburn athletics, filed a discrimination lawsuit in district court that claims Auburn University changed a football player's grade in 2019 in order for him to remain eligible to compete in the team’s appearance in The Outback Bowl that season.

The lawsuit claims that Auburn “caused, or allowed to be caused, significant pressure to be placed on” a university professor to change a failing grade of D to a passing grade of C, the player was identified as an Auburn football graduate transfer from Arizona State. Former Auburn tight end Jay Jay Wilson is the only player who matches that description.

Thomas states that on December 23, 2019, the professor sent an email refusing to change said athletes’ grade in order for him to be eligible for the bowl game. However, in the next weeks before Auburn's appearance in The Outback bowl, “the professor was caused to change her mind, or simply changed her mind, and accordingly changed the grade,”. It is claimed that Thomas was not made aware of this grade change until the day of the bowl game which broke Auburn’s policy that all grade changes were to be forwarded to Thomas the day of not weeks after. With the grade change, the player was allowed to compete in the bowl game and it permitted Auburn to add graduate transfers to its 2020 roster.

There is no argument that the grade change did not play in Auburn’s benefit as Wilson had two receptions in the bowl game and Auburn went on to add three graduate transfers in the off-season: Brandon Council, an offensive lineman from Akron; Grant Loy, a quarterback from Bowling Green; and Caylin Newton, a former Howard quarterback who joined Auburn as a preferred walk-on wide receiver.

It is also claimed that the whole athletic staff- including Thomas were made aware of Wilson’s struggles academically that semester. Thomas claims he was aware of the suspicious grade change for more than a year as were his three with female supervisors- senior associate athletics director Dr. Kathryn Flynn, associate AD Cathie Helmbold and associate AD Courtney Gage. He claims that him being an African American employee at the university, was a partial reason his “three white female supervisors wanted him out of the Academic division of the Auburn University Athletic Department.”

The university released a statement to AL.com saying “Mr. Thomas’s complaint does not include facts to support his allegations of discrimination, and Auburn will not further discuss the details of this personnel matter,”

Thomas’s attorney Julian McPhillips stated that Thomas felt threatened by Auburn athletics director of compliance, Rich McGlynn, during a meeting on January 28 of this year. McGlynn expressed how Thomas should have reported the grade change as an NCAA possible infraction, even if he was not for certain that an actual violation had occurred. McGlynn then turning it on Thomas argued that Thomas could be terminated due to Auburn’s policy that employees report any “potential infraction.” Thomas responded to McGlynn that his speculation was not the same as a potential violation and claimed that earlier in January 2020 he brought up his speculation to several members in a certification meeting and, therefore “no one can argue that Mr. Thomas was hiding information.”

In the meeting, Thomas claims he brought up that Wilson should have been ineligible for the bowl game and the 2020 season due to his failure to receive at least a C in two of his three courses. He states that members at the meeting laughed it off and responded with “you know his grade got changed.”

The lawsuit claims that Thomas’ knowledge of the “suspicious grade change” was one of the reasons his supervisors wanted him to be fired and argues that even though his three supervisors were also aware of the possible grade change they were never threatened with termination even though they also failed to report any possible infraction to Auburn University. Thomas expressed how his three supervisors were treated in a “more gentle and respectful” manner by the university “as compared to the more antagonistic and disrespectful way” he was treated. Thomas constituted race and sex discrimination against him as the cause for the differing treatment.

Thomas states that his work environment became so hostile that it was apparent Auburn’s athletic department, and his supervisors were trying to make him quit. On February 24th though he was served a notice of prospective termination and notified of his firing.

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