Friday, January 28, 2011

No Summary Judgment for FGCU in Ex-Provost's Retaliation Case

Bonnie Yegidis, we've recently mentioned, is the last plaintiff with outstanding Title IX claims against Florida Gulf Coast University stemming from alleged 2007 mass retaliation against female coaches who complained to administration about gender inequity in the athletics department. To recap, Yegidis was the provost at the time, and tried to get the President to take the charges seriously. She also defended general counsel Wendy Morris, who was fired for similar efforts. In alleged response, President Wilson Bradshaw forced her to resign her administrative position.

FGCU recently moved for summary judgment on Yegidis's Title IX retaliation claim, but a federal judge in Florida ruled against the motion and allowed Yegidis's claim to proceed to trial. Specifically, the court agreed that Yegidis had produced evidence in support of the essential elements of a retaliation claim: that she engaged in protected activity by complaining about perceived discriminatory and retaliatory conduct in athletics, which bore a causal connection to her termination in that it occurred after Yegidis spoke to the then-incoming President about her concerns. This part of the opinion was significant for legal reasons, as it recognized that the First Amendment test for protected conduct, which requires employee to be speaking in the personal rather than professional capacity, is not applicable to Title IX claims (see related posts here and here). Also, Yegidis produced evidence to counter FGCU's stated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for her termination -- that she and others in the administration's senior management did not work well together. Specifically, the judge credited Yegidis's evidence that other members of dysfunctional management team who did not complain about the Title IX investigation were retained, that the President terminated her without ever addressing her Title IX concerns, and that her termination was not warranted by her credentials and job performance, as sufficient for a jury to find that the FGCU's stated reason was pretext for retaliation.

While the judge's decision did pave the way for trial on the retaliation claim, it was the end of the road for her claim that FGCU's sexually hostile environment also violated Title IX. Following the practice of other district courts in the 11th Circuit, the court held that the general federal employment discrimination statute, Title VII, provides the exclusive remedy for such claims, and Yegidis needed to have filed with the EEOC before bringing such a claim to federal court.

Decision: Yegidis v. FGCU, No. 2:09-CV-00353-CEH-DNF (M.D. Fla. Jan. 21, 2011) (memorandum of order denying summary judgment).