Haffar sues college for back pay

by Jasmynne Sloan and Laura Dillavou

Former head soccer coach Aziz Haffar is suing Simpson College for $19,520.

According to public-record filings, Haffar’s lawyer, Steven DeVolder, will argue in court that Simpson violated its contract with the former coach when it terminated his contract March 1, 2005.

“I think there’s a disagreement on the interpretation of contracts between Simpson and Aziz,” Athletic Director John Sirianni said. “We believe we have upheld all the terms in good faith.”

Simpson’s standard contract allows the college to terminate it at any time as long as the employee gets 30 days notice. However, the college has another option when it wants to fire an employee immediately. The basic employee contract states “payment in lieu of notice may be given, in which case the termination shall be effective immediately.”

Haffar was paid for the month of March when he was fired. His contract doesn’t specify if he should be paid for the remainder of the year.

DeVolder argued, in a fax sent to Simpson’s lawyer, that Haffar should have been paid his regular monthly payments of $3,904 for the months of April through August according to the employee contract. These five payments account for the $19,520 Haffar is demanding from the college.

Simpson hadn’t filed its answer to DeVolder’s petition at press time, however, a copy of Haffar’s administrative contract was part of the material DeVolder filed. Haffar’s contract included a stipulation saying employment was “Contingent upon agreement to coach soccer exclusively for Simpson.”

Haffar has been the head men’s soccer coach at West Des Moines Valley High School for 14 years. The high school soccer season runs from March 14 to June 4. Haffar continues to coach there.

“I don’t think his coaching here conflicts with anything,” said Steve Duncan, Valley High School athletic director. “But I’m not really in a position to say anything about Simpson.”

According to Simpson’s records, Haffar finished coaching the 2004 soccer season, missing the last two games due to red cards. It marked his 10th season for the college.

Professor of Management Marilyn Mueller said it was logical for the college to base its defense on the stipulation in the contract. However, Mueller, like many on campus, admitted she didn’t know all the details that led to Haffar’s termination of contract.

“I always liked Aziz,” Mueller said. “I don’t know whether he did a good job or not, but I enjoyed working with him.”

Senior Dave Given took a class taught by Haffar, but he isn’t sure what happened either.

“I don’t really know anything about it, so I can’t make an informed comment,” Given said. “He probably didn’t talk about it so he didn’t jeopardize his case.”

Others who may know what happened are unwilling to talk about it.

“All this happened in the past and it’s not really news now,” said Mike Wilson, men’s head soccer coach. “It was a long time ago. We’ve all moved on, and all I have to say is ‘no comment.'”

Several Simpson soccer players declined to comment because they didn’t want to be put in an awkward position during their season.

Haffar was suspended on Oct. 20 last year after he received a red card in an argument with a referee. In late January, Sirianni confirmed that the women’s and men’s soccer teams would be coached by separate coaches, and Assistant Coach Cory Chapman was promoted to head women’s coach. Chapman’s official contract began in February.

Chapman is Sirianni’s son-in-law, however, Sirianni felt the transition was handled professionally and without benefit or penalization to Chapman.

“At the end of the season, myself, Senior Women’s Administrator Lana Smith and Assistant Athletic Director Ron Peterson made the decision to split the teams based on what would be best for both the men and women,” Sirianni said. “The decision was approved by [Academic Dean] Bruce Haddox … and later discussed with President [Kevin] LaGree. The issue of Cory being my son-in-law did come up and LaGree recommended Cory report to Lana instead of me.”

At this time, Haffar was still coaching and teaching for Simpson. Sirianni said the coach was aware of the situation and the decisions being made.

“His comment to me was something to the effect of, ‘I would still like to coach both men and women, but that’s your decision,'” Sirianni said. “All I can say is he knew what was going on.”

At the time of Haffar’s resignation, Chapman could have applied for the men’s head coach position.

“We told Cory he could apply for the men’s job if he wanted, but he would have to go through the application process,” Sirianni said. “He knew we were bringing in people from all over to interview, and he stayed with the women’s team because he had already established himself there.”

Wilson was hired as the new head coach for the men’s team in March. He signed his contract on March 9, just days after the college notified Haffar his contract had been terminated. Wilson started work at Simpson in the summer of 2005.

Prior to taking legal action against Simpson, Haffar and his lawyer, DeVolder, tried to negotiate with Simpson for a buy-out of the former coach’s contract. According to the fax from DeVolder, those negotiations ended when Simpson fired Aziz.

The written notice of termination dated March 1, 2005 and signed by then-president Kevin LaGree and Sirianni said “We regret we were unable to arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution with respect to your departure.”

Despite that letter saying Haffar’s termination was “effective immediately,” he continued to teach at Simpson until the middle of March.

According to the April 20 edition of The Simpsonian, “Haffar suddenly announced to the class that he had misinterpreted something and would be leaving immediately” on March 17.

Haffar could not be reached for comment. Both his lawyer and Simpson’s lawyer declined to comment.