Thursday, October 18, 2007

Vivas Award Reduced, Johnson-Klein Trial Begins

On Friday the judge presiding over Lindy Vivas's case against Fresno State denied the University's motion for a new trial, but reduced the damages she had been awarded by a jury last July from $5.85 million to $4.52 million. He explained that the evidence did not support the jury's calculations for past and future economic losses and shaved about $600,000 off that component of the jury award. The other component, emotional damages, was reduced by $700,000 because the judge believed that Vivas "offered no evidence that she would likely continue to suffer from debilitating psychological harm for any significant period after the verdict in this trial."

Meanwhile, Stacy Johnson-Klein's trial against Fresno State is underway. In opening statements on Tuesday, the former basketball coach's attorney Warren Paboojian described the sexist culture of the Fresno State athletic department and argued that Johnson-Klein was fired in retaliation for complaining about unequal treatment for female athletes and rejecting the sexual advances of the athletic director. The University's lawyer argued that Johnson-Klein was fired because her addiction to painkillers and erratic behavior threatened the safety of her players.

The jury also heard testimony from "the estranged wife of a Fresno State computer specialist who said her husband in 2005 implied that he, with the knowledge of university officials, had deleted some Johnson-Klein e-mails that were damaging to the university's position after the coach was fired."

Diane Milutinovich and Lindy Vivas testified on Wednesday that the athletic department became a hostile place for female employees in 1992 because of a federal investigation into unequal treatment of female athletes at the university. Then University President John Welty took the stand to defend Fresno State's apparently inconsistent approach to drug use in the athletic department. Male basketball players in 2002-03 repeatedly tested positive for drugs, but were allowed to play. Eventually, the coach, Ray Lopes, resigned as part of a deal that awarded him $200,000 in prorated salary. Paboojian's questioning cast doubt on the University's professed concern for the safety of Johnson-Klein's athletes -- if athlete safety was a paramount concern, the University would have suspended players the male basketball players who tested positive and immediately fired Lopes, not paid him to resign.

(For more background on the Fresno State litigation, use the Fresno link below.)

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