Law & Policy: Contract Law
- Opinion: Fisher's A&M Contract Means Losing Not an Option
by David Cloninger July 2018
Jimbo Fisher landed a 10-year, $75 million contract to leave Florida State — where he won a national championship — to become the head football coach at College Station.
- UNM Baseball Coach Works on Month-to-Month Deal
by Ken Sickenger July 2018
The University of New Mexico's baseball clubhouse was eerily quiet in June. Lobos head coach Ray Birmingham spent much of the month out recruiting and not only for new players. He had vacant coaches' offices to fill. It was an awkward undertaking as June was the last official month of Birmingham's contract. He's now serving on a monthly extension while he and UNM's athletic department continue to negotiate a long-term deal.
- The High Cost of Discrimination in Collegiate Athletics
by Kristi Schoepfer-Bochicchio June 2018
In recent years, several female college coaches have filed notable lawsuits resulting from perceived discrimination under Title VII and Title IX, as well as state anti-discrimination laws. In multiple instances, these coaches have been awarded multimillion-dollar verdicts or settlements, sending clear messages to university athletics departments and athletic directors that disparate treatment and discriminatory practices will not be tolerated. Most recently, Shannon Miller, a highly accomplished women's hockey coach at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) received a $3.7 million jury verdict for discrimination under both Title VII and Title IX, and Beth Burns, the former women's basketball coach at San Diego State University, settled for $4 million.
- Texas Settles Former Track Coach's Discrimination Suit
by Paul Steinbach June 2018
A former University of Texas track coach has settled the discrimination case she filed against the university in 2013 for an undisclosed sum.
Bev Kearney, who claimed she was fired as the Longhorns' women's track coach because of her race and gender, had been seeking in excess of $1 million.
According to Horns 247, Kearney threatened to reveal several inappropriate relationships within the athletic department and throughout the university to prove her point that she was unfairly singled out and dismissed for having an intimate relationship with one of her female track athletes 10 years earlier. Her lawsuit contrasted the treatment she received against that of several white males, including Major Applewhite, a former Texas assistant football coach who revealed to school officials an extramarital affair with a graduate student trainer during the 2008 season, which culminated in team's a Fiesta Bowl appearance in January 2009. Applewhite wasn't fired, but instead saw his salary frozen for one year.
The lawsuit also claimed a three-year relationship between an athletics administrator and subordinate with whom he held salary decision power, among other inappropriate relationships. "In one of the most glaring examples of the university's blatant disregard for this being an alleged problem amongst coaches and student-athletes, the university previously employed Jim Moore (current head volleyball coach at the University of Oregon) from 1997 to 2000 despite the fact he married his former student-athlete, Stacy Metro," the lawsuit stated. "These relationships between a professor, coach or administrator and a student, student-athlete or subordinate employee, are believed to be well known by the university administration and quietly disregarded and swept under the rug.
"However, without citing any specific written policy, the university has singled out Ms. Kearney, an African-American female, regarded her as different based on a nearly 10-year-old relationship."
Kearney's lawsuit claims that then women's athletic director Chris Plonsky told her "as long as there were no other relationships, it should not be a problem." Raasin McIntosh, the star sprinter with whom Kearney had a relationship, reportedly received from Kearney a Volkswagon Jetta in violation of NCAA rules, though the statute of limitations had precluded an NCAA investigation.
Horns 247 further reports that McIntosh came forward 10 years after the fact, as Kearney was poised to receive new contract proposed by Plonsky that would have given Kearney a five-year extension and raise in salary from $270,000 to $422,000 for 2012-13. Kearney's salary could've reached $475,000, plus bonuses, by 2017.
In a statement released at the time of the lawsuit's filing, UT vice president of legal affairs Ohlendorf said:
"Ms. Kearney was a coach with some admirable qualities who brought success to our women's track program, overcame great challenges, and contributed to the campus community.
"When the university reviews inappropriate behavior by its employees, each case is evaluated on its individual facts.
"In this case, it was evident that Ms. Kearney displayed a serious lack of judgment by having an inappropriate, intimate, long-term relationship with a member of her team.
"The team member later reported it to university officials who pursued all appropriate action."
Applewhite was deposed by Kearney's attorneys, as were former head football coach Mack Brown and former athletic director DeLoss Dodds, both of whom stepped down from their positions in 2013. Former UT president Bill Powers, who stepped down in 2014, was also deposed.
- San Diego Wasted Money During Naming Rights Search
by Paul Steinbach May 2018
The city of San Diego unnecessarily spent money on a third party to help secure new naming rights for the former Qualcomm Stadium, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday.
- Iowa to Pay Firm Another $90K for Second Policy Review
by Paul Steinbach May 2018
The University of Iowa, still searching for answers after discrimination lawsuits involving its athletic department led to $6.5 million in total settlements last year, is paying a law firm $92,000 to review the legality of the department's employment policies.
- UNM Tweaks Coach's Contract to Cover Buyout
by Geoff Grammer May 2018
After an addendum signed Monday to the employment contract of Lobos men's basketball coach Paul Weir, the former Aggies coach is no longer on the hook directly for paying his old employer the majority of an agreed-upon $450,000 buyout for breaking his contract there to come to UNM in April 2017.
- Review Firm: Iowa Policy Sets Harassment Bar Too High
by Paul Steinbach April 2018
A law firm tasked with reviewing the University of Iowa's employment policies recommends that the school revise its definition of workplace harassment.
Fredrikson and Byron, a Des Moines-based firm hired after a jury award and additional settlements involving former senior associate athletic director Jane Meyer and companion Tracey Griesbaum cost Iowa $6.5 million, stated in a report released Thursday that the university's anti-harassment policy sets the bar too high in its description of harassment speech that could be considered illegal. In doing so, employees could “erroneously believe that harassment that falls short of this standard must be tolerated and not reported." The current policy "does not accurately communicate what constitutes protected-class harassment in the workplace," and should be revised, according to the report, which also recommends harassment training for employees, though it didn't specify which ones.
Last May, less than 24 hours after a jury awarded Meyer $1.43 million in a wrongful termination case, Iowa president Bruce Harreld announced that the school's policies would be reviewed. It hired Fredrikson and Byron in November and has paid the firm $97,575, including expenses, according to the Des Moines Register.
Other recommendations in the 39-page report include making it easier to suspend employees for egregious sexual harassment and clarifying conduct protected in the anti-retaliation policy. In general, the review was positive, pointing out that university and athletic department policies on human rights, sexual harassment, anti-retaliation and violence complied with state and federal laws.
- Former UMD Women's Hockey Coach Wins $3.7M Verdict
by Paul Steinbach March 2018
Shannon Miller, who sued the University of Minnesota Duluth after her contract as women's hockey coach was not renewed following the 2014-15 season, won a $3.74 million jury verdict Thursday.
Miller, who led the Bulldogs for 16 seasons, claimed under Title VII and Title IX that UMD had discriminated against her due to her gender and because she had complained about unequal gender treatment at the school. The jury took four hours of deliberation to reach its decision, with the award total taking into account loss of salary and emotional distress.
"When you get a verdict like that, you know that justice has taken the right course, and it’s a big day really for women, for women period, but especially for women in college athletics," said Miller after emerging from the courthouse, as reported by Fox21 KQDS in Duluth.
Miller, whose annual salary of more than $200,000 was the largest among women's hockey coaches in the country, was the third coach in NCAA history to reach 350 wins, ultimately posting a 383–144–50 record at UMD. Her teams made seven Frozen Four appearances and won five national championships, then missed qualifying for the NCAA tournament four years in a row. In the three years since Miller's departure, the Bulldogs have made one NCAA tournament appearance, losing in the first round, to go with two losing seasons.
UMD officials justified the decision not to renew Miller by citing the school's $6 million budget deficit and its flagging "return on investment" in Miller, as measured by cost per win.
"I will certainly take time to rethink the process and things we did, but I can tell you I stand firm on the decision that was made," UMD chancellor Lendley Black said. "I will also continue to take action to see that we further the growth of the climate at UMD so that everyone on campus feels respected and they feel welcome and they feel safe."
In addition, Black voiced support for athletic director Josh Berlo, who arrived at UMD in 2013 and received a two-year contract extension last year.
"I hope other athletic directors are watching and can learn from this, and I hope female coaches are watching and are ready to step up and fight for themselves a little harder than maybe they were before," said Miller, who along with two other former UMD coaches has a state discrimination lawsuit against the university pending.
In the meantime, Miller, whose resume also includes leading the Canadian national team to a gold medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Women's Championships in 1997 and a silver medal at the Winter Olympics in Nagano a year later, has actively sought employment at the highest levels of her sport. "I would love to be the first female hockey coach in the NHL. I'll continue to follow that path," she said, adding, "I’ve applied for men's hockey jobs. There’s lots of men coaching in women's athletics, I absolutely see no reason why women can't coach in men's athletics."
- Miami Filed First Lawsuit Over Cancelled Arkansas State Game
by Andy Berg March 2018
The University of Miami was first to file a lawsuit against Arkansas State over a football game cancelled due to Hurricane Irma.