When I arrived in the USA in 1994, I soon discovered that in Texas, just about every school district sooner or later has a scandal break out. (In the case of the Dallas Independent School District, a scandal has appeared like clockwork every 2 or 3 years. Like this one from 2017).
Browsing on the Internets the other day, I found that this might also be true in college sports coaching. There are literally dozens of Google entries documenting how fired coaches all over the country have been suing colleges for being dismissed.
Some of the lawsuits are whistleblower/retaliation lawsuits, basically alleging that the university or college was guilty of Title XI violations, and retaliated against coaches for identifying the violations. A number of female coaches in sports such as softball and basketball also sued colleges for sexual discrimination and/or harassment.
Needless to say, in the grand tradition of civil lawsuiting, nearly all of the cases were settled out of court, with the colleges in question paying sums of money (in some cases, large sums of money) but admitting to no wrongdoing or malfeasance.
One lawsuit that caught my eye was a settlement announced recently between San Diego State University and Beth Burns, who had been the university’s female basketball coach until she was terminated in 2013. Burns was forced at the time to retire with 4 years and $880k left on her contract. The college claimed she was effectively dismissed because of workplace violence, and was given the option to retire, which she accepted. Burns claimed in turn that she had been forced to retire mainly because she had been vocally complaining about the under-funding of female sports at SDSU compared to male sports.
The final settlement announcement was bizarre, for this line from the university’s statement:
“This is a situation where, although we are very confident of our chances on appeal, we decided to reach a settlement and move on. It’s a compromise. It’s something where clearly coach Burns is ready to put this behind her and we’re ready to move forward as well.”
The use of the word compromise is the side-splitter. Burns originally sued the college to be awarded $880k, the amount still owed under her contract, plus lawyers fees. The university low-balled her, so Burns filed a whistleblower lawsuit which went to a jury trial, where she was awarded $3.2m plus costs and fees in 2016.
The final bill to the university is therefore in excess of $4m. That is a compromise? Somebody at SDSU should have been terminated for incompetence for agreeing to actions and tactics that converted a liability that could have been less than $1m into a final cost of more than $4m.
Just to add insult to injury, the university also had to pay over $150k in damages to the assistant coach who was alleged to be the victim of the incident that led to Burns’ leaving SDSU.
However, this may be part of a pattern. This is at least the third lawsuit settled by SDSU in the last 12 years involving female coaches who sued the university. This article documents 2 previous lawsuits filed by departed coaches, both settled by the university. One starts to wonder if SDSU has a systemic problem in this area.
For sure, problem or no problem, it is costing the university and its insurers a lot of money.