College athletic coaches do not seem to have much job security; their firings are a common occurrence. Nevertheless, coaches are subject to the same laws and have the same rights as other employees. A recent jury verdict in a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by the former head coach of women's basketball at San Diego State shows that even a head coach cannot be fired for an improper reason.
The coach, Beth Burns, was fired by SDSU in April 2013, one month after her team had set a school record by winning 27 games. Nine months before the firing, the school gave Burns a contract extension through 2016-2017 that was worth $220,000 per year plus benefits and bonuses. In her complaint, Burns alleged claims for whistle-blower retaliation, gender discrimination and breach of contract. The heart of the case centered on complaints Burns made to school officials about unequal treatment of women's athletics. Burns alleged that she was fired because she made these complaints and for no other reason.
The school denied these allegations and attempted to prove that Burns was fired for elbowing an assistant coach during a game and that she mistreated subordinates. In closing arguments, Burns' attorney responded to these arguments by asking the jury whether she would have been fired if she had not complained. The jury decided the answer was "no", and it returned a verdict awarding Burns $3.35 million in damages.
This case shows again that California courts will uphold worker's rights. Anyone who feels they may have been fired in retaliation for making complaints about their employers' wrongful actions may wish to consult a lawyer who specializes in such cases. An experienced employment law attorney can provide a helpful review of the law and facts of the case and can offer an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages for lost income, mental anguish and attorneys' fees.
Source: Los Angeles Times, "USC assistant Beth Burns wins wrongful-termination lawsuit against San Diego State," Mark Zeigler, Sep. 28, 2016