Ex-Coach at CSU Fresno Wins $5.85 Million for Sex Bias"If they're going to discriminate, they'd better be a whole lot more careful and subtle than they were at Fresno.
Last month’s civil trial in Fresno CA had all the earmarks of a soap opera, in which non-renewed former volleyball coach Lindy Vivas sued California State University Fresno for $4.1 million for sex discrimination. The jury was not amused by the descriptions of outrageous antics of the athletics department, awarding Vivas even more than she had requested: $5.85 million.
Vivas had coached the women’s volleyball team from 1990 to 2004, becoming the winningest coach ever at Fresno, including a 59-27 record in her last three years.
Yet her contract was not renewed in 2004, which she said was because of her advocacy for female athletes and her perceived sexual orientation. Trials by two other women suing the Fresno athletics department for sex bias are scheduled for this fall.
Alarmed at the cost of this case and future ones to taxpayers, California lawmakers plan to investigate whether there is widespread gender bias in the CSU system. State Senator Don Perata, a Democrat who chairs the senate rules committee, expects to form a special investigative subcommittee with power to convene hearings and subpoena witnesses.
California’s public institutions cannot be sued for punitive damages, so the award of $5.85 million is classified as covering lost pay and emotional distress. The jury was especially moved by photos of Vivas in the Fresno media guide before she was fired, compared to how she looked in the courtroom.
Fresno officials plan to appeal the verdict and file a motion to reduce the amount of the award.
Because the Fresno County Superior Court judge allowed cameras in the courtroom, viewers were able to witness some of the more dramatic moments in the trial, including:
Welty testified that 65 to 70 people had made positive comments to him about Johnson, but after Vivas’ lawyer Dan Siegel asked him three times to list some of them, Welty reportedly “stared blankly at Siegel and turned red in the face.” After two long pauses, he was able to list just three: the sports info director, Johnson’s former wife and a former foundation president.
A pattern of discrimination
In 1994, the federal Office for Civil Rights investigated Fresno State’s athletics department and found it out of compliance with Title IX, the law that requires gender equity in educational programs for schools receiving federal funds, because its female athletes received less resources than males.
After the school drafted a compliance plan and made major changes such as doubling the number of female athletes and dramatically increasing the women’s sports budget, the program was declared to be in compliance in 2001.
But former Fresno athletics department staffers said the issue set off a “civil war” between the sexes in the mid-1990s, including:
Women coaches: An endangered species
With outrageous conduct like that of the Fresno athletics department and who knows how many other, less-documented departments, it’s a small wonder that fewer women than ever are head coaches of women’s collegiate teams. From 1960 to 2006, the percentage of teams with women coaches has dropped from 90% to 42%, the lowest ever recorded, according to the 2006 study by Acosta and Carpenter.
“Title IX opened so many more opportunities for women athletes, but it also made positions coaching women’s teams so much more attractive to men,” explained Deborah Rhode, a Stanford University law professor. Her forthcoming national survey of 462 coaches of women’s collegiate teams found that only about half believed that Title IX had a “positive effect” on female coaches.
The Education Department’s Office for Civil rights, which is charged with enforcing Title IX, has investigated only one of the 416 complaints about gender equity filed in recent years.
Instead, women coaches like those at Fresno and other schools are suing for gender equity. “They do it for themselves,” explained Lisa M. Maatz, speaking for the AAUW, where she has noticed an increasing number of lawsuits by female coaches. “But they also do it very much with an eye toward the bigger picture.”
But many female coaches are reluctant to expose themselves to the psychological, financial and career-jeopardizing risks of a lawsuit. “They’d rather have a career than a lawsuit,” according to Professor Rhode.
Still, there’s a lesson to be learned from the way some “good ol’ boys” treat women in athletics, and the price their schools pay for it. “All the problems stem from the top,” said Milutinovich, referring to President Welty.
She noted that Vivas’ successful lawsuit has already changed the way local high schools and community colleges treat women athletes and those who speak up for gender equity. “If they’re going to discriminate, they’d better be a whole lot more careful and subtle than they were at Fresno,” she said.
Info is from The Fresno Bee on June 20, 21 and 24, The Associated Press on July 10, and The Chronicle of Higher Education on July 11 and 13, 2007.
Ex-Coach at Berkeley Settles for $3.5+ million
In another huge win for women coaches and athletics administrators facing sex discrimination, a former Olympic gold medal swimmer and coach at the University of California at Berkeley has settled her lawsuit with the school for more than $3.5 million and reinstatement in her job.
Karen Moe Humphreys worked at Berkeley from 1978 as swimming coach and later assistant athletic director for student services. She was laid off in 2004 in retaliation for complaining about the treatment of women by Cal’s athletics department, she said.
“I am really thrilled to be reinstated, and I am happy to recover most of our legal costs,” Humphreys said. The $3.5 million will go toward legal fees, and she will also receive back pay and benefits dating to her layoff in 2004. She plans to stay in her job until January 2008, when she will retire with 30 years of service to the university.
In the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, Humphreys won a gold medal in the 200-meter butterfly, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times on July 20, 2007.