Law & Policy: Contract Law
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.
Arkansas State May Sue Miami Over Canceled Game
by Jason Scott February 2018
Hurricane Irma caused all kinds of problems for sports teams in its wake. Even major football games were canceled or rescheduled, and one of them is still causing headaches.
Pitino, Jurich Get Help from Attorney General’s Ruling
by Andy Berg February 2018
Former Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino and former athletic director Tom Jurich might have just received help in their cases against their former employer from a local news outlet and the Kentucky attorney general.
Louisville Suing Pitino for Damage to Reputation
by Paul Steinbach December 2017
Two weeks after former men's basketball coach Rick Pitino sued the University of Louisville for breach of contract, the university is pursuing a counter suit, claiming Pitino's "wrongful conduct" as coach has damaged Louisville's reputation.
According to SI.com, the lawsuit argues that Pitino, not the university, is financially responsible for the multiple scandals that have plagued the program during his 16 years at its helm. Pitino was fired Oct. 16 after an FBI probe uncovered widespread corruption in college basketball. Over the years, Pitino has been accused of being aware of or encouraging recruiting tactics that included funneling money to the families of prospective recruits and enticing prospects with prostitutes. The latter scenario ultimately forced Louisville to vacate all victories between 2012 and 2015, including the 2013 national championship, and return all related earnings.
The university claims Pitino is responsible for that money, as well as ticket sales and enrollment revnue Louisville has lost due to its tarnished reputation. In addition, Louisville seeks payback on all bonuses and other compensation "wrongly paid" to Pitino during this period.
By counter-suing, Louisville is seeking to not only thwart Pitino's efforts to sue the school for the near $37 million remaining on his contract, but actually have Pitino compensate the university. The total damages amount sought by Louisville is unclear as of this writing.
Pitino Suing Louisville for $35M over Termination
by Paul Steinbach December 2017
Former University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino is suing the school's athletic department for the more than $35 million in compensation that remained on his contract.
Louisville fired Pitino in October after it was determined he had knowledge of and supported a system whereby the university's sponsor shoe company Adidas was paying recruits to sign with the Cardinals. By claiming it had "just cause" for the termination, Louisville relieved itself of honoring the remainder of Pitino's contract. On Thursday, Pitino filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit in U.S. District Court, claiming the University of Louisville Athletic Associaton did not have a case for the "just cause" firing. It also claims that Louisville did not properly inform Pitino that he had been placed on administrative leave, which his lawyers claim was tantamount to termination.
According to Louisville Courier Journal, Pitino seeks $4.3 million per year, the value of his contract, from the date of the school's last payment through his contract's end in June 2026, or the value of his actual losses, which includes his personal Adidas contract. Adidas terminated its personal services contract with Pitino after he was fired.
Three causes were cited for the firing. One, the university asserted that Pitino was involved in or had knowledge of the illegal recruiting tactics. Secondly, Pitino failed to alert the athletic department to the presence on campus of Christian Dawkins, a rogue agent. And third, Pitino failed to exercise control over his program in the wake of allegations that escorts had been purchased to entice recruits, the university claimed.
Pitino's legal team counters that the former coach never admitted to wrongdoing, even when wiretapped, and that he had insufficient knowledge of Dawkins to warrant reporting his presence to the athletic department.
According to Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann, Pitino's lawsuit faces long odds of succeeding. "This is mainly because Pitino’s contract contains expansive and vague language for the university to construct a valid rationale for firing with just cause," McCann writes. "For instance, he would have violated his contract by failing to: diligently supervise compliance of his assistant coaches; promote an atmosphere of compliance; or avoid disparaging media publicity. In order to conclude that Pitino did not violate his contract, one would likely have to believe that Pitino was unaware and uninvolved in any of the corruption that was both around him and that appeared to benefit him."
Jurich Reviews Could Derail Case for Firing
by Andy Berg November 2017
The University of Louisville could have a tough time justifying its firing of athletic director Tom Jurich in light of glowing reviews that highlight his tenure at the school.
24 Hour Fitness to Refund Membership Renewal Fees
by Courtney Cameron November 2017
24 Hour Fitness has agreed to pay $1.3 million to members who allege that they were misled about increasing membership fees, according to CBS Los Angeles.
Coach Fired Over Treatment of Athletes: 'Totally Untrue'
by Paul Steinbach November 2017
University of Louisiana-Lafayette softball coach Michael Lotief was fired Wednesday for subjecting student-athletes and coworkers to "violent, vulgar language and verbal and physical assault, creating a hostile learning and working environment."
Lotief, who amassed a 729-174 career coaching record while leading the Cajuns to five straight NCAA Super Regionals between 2012 and 2016 and three Women's College World Series appearances (2003, 2008, 2014), denies the allegations, claiming his 30-plus-year battle with throat cancer and resulting tracheotomy precluded him from such behavior. "Having a trach and not being able to breathe and a tube in my stomach, pretty much prevents me from physical confrontations," he said, according to ESPN.com.
Lotief's attorneys allege that the coach's termination has more to do with his advocacy for gender equality in athletics at Louisiana-Lafayette. "This matter arose out of a passionate discussion between Coach Lotief and several other persons within the university's athletic department wherein he complained of gender equality issues adversely affecting UL's female athletes, specifically the softball team," said attorney Glenn Edwards. "In response to a complaint of at least one participant in that conversation, Coach Lotief was immediately placed on administrative leave even though the written statements obtained about the conversation present completely divergent descriptions of what occurred."
Lotief had been on administrative leave since Oct. 6. He addressed his termination Wednesday with several team members in support behind him. "It's surreal, how unfactual it's been. It's totally untrue," said Lotief, whose assistant coach and video coordinator were also fired to — as a university statement put it — "allow the new coach to assemble their team." After the news conference, student-athletes discovered that they had been locked out of the team's facilities.
The team went 47-8 last season, winning Lafayette's 12th Sun Belt Conference title under Lotief.
"The allegation is that I poked someone in the shoulder, which seems like a very liberal interpretation of physical assault," said Lotief, who called accusations of verbal confrontation "a stretch. I'd even go so far as to say it's a lie."
Lotief and his attorneys said it was too soon to comment on future pursuit of legal remedies.