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Bills Would Tighten Disclosure Rules for Discrimination Inquiries

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Two state lawmakers want to allow public colleges to shield their internal investigations into employment discrimination complaints.

Their proposed bills come a year after Virginia Commonwealth University fired women's volleyball coach James Finley. He said he was dismissed because he was gay — a point the university denied and backed with an internal investigation that found his termination was nondiscriminatory.

State Sen. Frank M. Ruff Jr., R-Clarksville, says he filed the legislation at the request of the University of Virginia, not VCU. Likewise, a legislative aide in the office of Delegate C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, who filed companion legislation in the House of Delegates, says the legislation was drafted at the request of U.Va. administrators.

Ruff says the Charlottesville university was concerned that making all records and notes available during investigations could impede or influence the outcomes. "Other state agencies are already exempt" from such disclosure, he says, "but colleges for some reason were left out of that section."

The measure would apply only to investigations as they're being conducted, and the results would be available when they're closed, Ruff says.

Anna Scholl, the director of the liberal advocacy group Progress VA, isn't so sure the measures are as innocuous as Ruff makes it sound. Scholl says the bills seem to be aimed at countering the push to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in state employment.

She says Republican lawmakers like to argue that such discrimination doesn't exist, and she worries the new laws would keep discrimination quiet when it's found.

"Any measure that would make it more difficult to suss out this kind of discrimination is something that is worth more investigation and conversation before we make it law," Scholl says.

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