Some of you may be familiar with the case of former Fresno State women’s volleyball coach Lindy Vivas, who sued the school for $4.1 million dollars for wrongful dismissal. Vivas, who was fired and replaced with a male coach, asserted that she was fired because she was a woman, perceived as gay (Vivas has not confirmed or denied whether she is or not), and a supporter of Title IX. Her assertion was bolstered by former basketball coach Stacey Johnson-Klein:
Johnson-Klein claimed on the stand that there was discrimination against Vivas. She claimed that when she was hired by former Athletic Director Scott Johnson, she was told there was a “home team” and an “away team”, and only heterosexual females were allowed on the “home team.” Johnson-Klein also went on to say that Scott Johnson created a hostile work environment for women in the athletic department.
Of course, that wasn’t the only incident.
There was the time, for instance, when administrators were drinking at “Ugly Women Athete’s Day [sic],” which featured a banner with men’s heads cut-and-pasted onto women’s bodies. The volleyball team was not allowed to play in the school’s main arena. (Funny, men’s basketball was.) And Scott Johnson, the former athletic director who fired Vivas for not doing enough for the volleyball program, someone who testified that he had “never” talked about another person’s sexual orientation, couldn’t even testify as to how many players are on a volleyball team.
Well, the good news is that there’s a happy ending to this debacle:
A jury on Monday awarded a former Fresno State volleyball coach $5.85 million in damages, ruling that the school discriminated against her for speaking up on behalf of female athletes.
Lindy Vivas, 50, was fired in 2004, two years after coaching her team to its best season in history. University officials said Vivas was let go because she did not meet performance goals and ran a program that often played in empty arenas.
Vivas sued in civil court, saying her contract was not renewed because she raised her voice to advocate for equal treatment of women athletes and access to facilities at Fresno State, a Division I school with a sprawling central California campus.
The jury award, which took into account Vivas’ back wages, future lost pay and emotional distress, is likely the largest ever granted to a coach suing for retaliation under Title IX, a landmark federal law requiring gender equity in scholastic athletics, said the coach’s lawyer, Dan Siegel.
Of course, this isn’t the end. Johnson-Klein is suing the school, as is softball coach Margie Wright, who also just happens to be a member of the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. And of course the ruling will be appealed — they always are. But at least for today, a jury in California saw through the bunk and decided the right way. It’s a nice win for all of us who support Title IX and loathe discrimination.