- Sep 9, 2015
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Law firm WilmerHale is investigating the third-ranked Wolverines for toxic workplace culture, Title IX violations and COVID-19 misconduct.
Editor’s note: this article will be updated as more information becomes available.
Editor’s note: Some sources are anonymous for fear of retribution. In accordance with our ethics policy (which can be found in full in our bylaws), the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor are aware of the sources’ identities.
The No. 3 Michigan hockey team is under investigation for a combination of Title IX violations, workplace culture complaints and COVID-19 misconduct.
Specifically, the investigation by law firm WilmerHale involves accusations that Michigan coach Mel Pearson allegedly told players to lie on COVID-19 contact tracing forms before the 2021 NCAA Tournament, that Pearson and director of hockey operations Rick Bancroft allegedly created a toxic work environment for female staff and that Pearson allegedly retaliated against a player for voicing issues within the Wolverines’ program.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily on Jan. 31, Pearson said he denied all allegations.
“The truth will come true at the end of the investigation,” Pearson said. “And I feel very confident that the allegations will be proved wrong.”
The investigation, which began in October 2021, is led by the same firm that investigated allegations towards late University Athletic Doctor Robert Anderson and sexual misconduct allegations towards former University Provost Martin Philbert. MLive reported that a person who filed a complaint with Michigan’s Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office was told by attorney Bruce Berman, General Counsel of the WilmerHale law firm, that his firm would be leading Michigan’s investigation.
Michigan’s Title IX investigation against the Michigan hockey team involves the treatment of female support staff. A source close to The Daily, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional retaliation, alleges they were told that women have been denied access to team locker rooms in order to perform work duties under Pearson’s tenure.
Another source, who also asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional retaliation, alleged that the current policy under Pearson is different from what the Wolverines followed under former coach Red Berenson, which prevents female support staff from entering locker rooms completely compared to previous policies which required players to wear some clothing in the locker room when female support staff worked with the team.
As for workplace culture issues, MLive reported that a May 19, 2021, email from Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manuel asked the Wolverines to conduct an environment survey to address “issues that may exist in your team environment.”
Pearson told The Daily that the person who filed the formal complaint with Michigan was a “disgruntled employee.” The Daily has not confirmed that the anonymous party was a staff member, though MLive’s Samuel Dodge reported that it was an employee in the original breaking news story.
Bancroft, who is also under investigation, is still employed under Michigan Athletics. Neither he nor Pearson are currently on administrative leave. Pearson maintained that he is not concerned about his own job security in an interview with The Daily.
“I do not believe my job is on the line at this point,” Pearson said.
Pearson told The Daily he knew about the investigation dating back to its beginnings in October. He also said he spoke with his team on Saturday during Michigan’s series at Wisconsin, the day reports of the investigation originally surfaced. He believes the Wolverines handled the announcement well.
On the recruiting trail, Pearson held that some Michigan commits have reached out to him. He said he couldn’t reiterate their comments, but they supported him.
“This is my 40th year in division one hockey,” Pearson said. “I’ll put my reputation out there for people to look at and see what I’ve done and how I’ve conducted myself and not only in athletics, but through my daily life and how I live my life.”
The Daily is currently investigating this story, and will be adding updates as new information surfaces.
For any comments, tips or concerns, Daily Sports Writer Connor Earegood can be reached at [email protected] or @ConnorEaregood on Twitter.