After an eight-week trial, former Fresno State women’s basketball coach Stacy Johnson-Klein won a $19.1 million verdict against the school for gender discrimination and retaliation.
Johnson-Klein claimed that she was fired after complaining of gender bias and sexual harassment in the athletic department. She alleged that the department had a history of treating women as second-class citizens.
Specifically, Johnson-Klein claimed that former athletic director Scott Johnson made a suggestive comment to boosters at a public event that he might want to “play defense” with her. Randy Welniak, another of her superiors, allegedly told her not to dress so provocatively in public, using the word ”cleavage.” Her former assistant coach, Drew Champagne, allegedly offered to testify on her behalf if she would have sex with him. She also testified to instances in which the college gave preferential treatment to the men’s program related to substance abuse issues.
Johnson-Klein said she initially put up with the harassment because she feared losing her job but was forced to act when the department continually treated her team less favorably than the men’s basketball team. When she discussed the possibility of filing a federal complaint, she says the college conducted a biased investigation based on trumped-up allegations and then fired her.
The jury rejected the school’s attempt to portray Johnson-Klein as a pill-popping egomaniac who abused finances and violated NCAA rules. The college alleged that Johnson-Klein bought 900 prescription painkillers over a four-month period and then convinced a player to give her half a bottle of Vicodin. It also alleged that she made players pack and carry her suitcases and convinced restaurants to give her free food but kept her per diem.
The jury took only four hours to find in favor of Johnson-Klein and against the school.
When asked for her reaction, Johnson-Klein responded: “Vindicated.” She added: ”[I]t’s a victory to see that there’s a justice system in America. You can use it. It’s long, it’s hard, it’s not for the weak of heart. But it works.”
Fresno State said it plans to appeal the decision.
The college has had a rough year on the gender-bias front. In July, former volleyball coach Lindy Vivas was awarded $4.52 million for gender discrimination. In October, the school settled a gender discrimination suit filed by former associate athletic director Diane Milutinovich for $3.5 million.