After a three-year legal battle and four weeks on trial, former San Diego State women’s basketball coach Beth Burns was awarded $1.35 million for past and future economic losses and $2 million for punitive damages by the San Diego Superior Court for wrongful termination.
Burns was fired in April of 2013 following an internal investigation made by the university chronicling a history of allegedly mistreated subordinates. Burns’ defense made two claims; that her conduct as an employee of the university was neither unprecedented nor out of place, and that she was in fact terminated due to a history of making protected disclosures of Title IX violations on the part of the university.
“For me, I had no choice,” Burns told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “No one wants to do this. But I didn’t think I had a choice because they were saying that I hit somebody, that I was a bad person, and I just couldn’t live with at least not trying to clear my name.”
Although Burns was fired only 9 months after signing a four-year extension of her contract, the suit over breach of contract was dropped by Burns’ counsel just prior to the court’s decision, forcing the jury to focus on the issue of whistleblower retaliation.
A jury of five women and seven men reviewed 12 gender equity communications made by Burns in order to determine whether or not they qualified as protected disclosures, and whether they led to her termination. Five of the 12 communications were ruled to qualify and the jury voted 10-2 that these were a factor in Burns’ termination. The jury then voted 9-3 in favor of Burns that she would not have been terminated at all if not for these protected communications.
Representation for SDSU stated that the university will respect the court’s decision, and is now in the process of determining its next steps. The $3.35 million to be payed to Burns, along with their own legal fees, will be taken from an insurance fund and not the school’s athletic department budget. The total cost is expected to exceed $4 million.