Law & Policy: Contract Law
- 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.
- The High Cost of Discrimination in Collegiate Athletics
by Kristi Schoepfer-Bochicchio May 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.
- 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.
- Contract Dispute May Cost Ex-Coach a Year's Salary
by Aaron Falk April 2018
Utah State University and former basketball coach Tim Duryea are in a contract dispute that might prevent him from receiving one year’s salary.
- Arizona Regents Approve Change to Miller's Contract
by Bruce Pascoe April 2018
In a move that appeared to be largely symbolic, the Arizona Board of Regents approved a $1 million reduction in longevity funds if coach Sean Miller is charged with a crime or found to have committed a major NCAA violation.
- Miller Will Lose $1M if Charged Under New Contract
by Bruce Pascoe April 2018
Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller will lose $1 million of his $4.1 million longevity fund if he is found guilty of a Level 1 NCAA violation, according to contract language subject to approval by the Arizona Board of Regents this week.
- Bills Sue Stadium Clock Sponsor, Alleging Nonpayment
by Aaron Besecker April 2018
The clock ran out on the official timepiece of the Buffalo Bills. The team is suing Benrus, the company that a few years ago was allowed to put its name on two massive clocks atop New Era Field. The lawsuit alleges the company, known for making watches for members of the military, has failed to pay the Bills nearly $1 million it owed under a sponsorship deal, according to documents filed in State Supreme Court.
- Baylor Paid Briles $15M After Firing Him Amid Scandal
by Post & Courier April 2018
Baylor University paid former football coach Art Briles more than $15 million after firing him in 2016 in the wake of a sexual assault scandal that included allegations against former players and rocked his program, according to newly released tax documents.
- 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."