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San Diego State basketball coach sues for wrongful termination

The San Diego State University (SDSU) women’s basketball coach who retired this April has filed a wrongful termination suit against the university. Beth Burns, whose team had just completed a season with a record 27 wins, says that she was given a choice of resigning, retiring, or being terminated from SDSU, which is part of the California State University (CSU) system.

The 55-year-old coach says in her lawsuit that she was ostensibly terminated for hitting a clipboard that was being held by her assistant coach and then hitting him in the shoulder with her elbow during a February game. She contends that in reality, she was terminated in retaliation for complaining that women’s athletics did not receive the same attention as the men’s programs. She says that she worked under five athletic directors during the past eight years, and that they all focused their attention on the men’s sports.

Burns claims that the physical contact with the assistant coach during the February game against Colorado State University was unintentional, and occurred during the excitement of the game. The assistant coach received a $250,000 settlement, and has since left the university.

Burns says that the accusation of workplace violence has already cost her a tentative offer of a coaching position she received after she left SDSU. She contends that the three university personnel named in the suit have caused permanent harm to her reputation, making it potentially impossible for her to get a coaching job at another Division I school. She is seeking $880,000, which is the amount left on the contract extension she received before the start of her last school year. That extension was for five years at an annual salary of $220,000. The CSU system has 45 days to respond to the suit. If it does not, Burns can take the suit to superior court.

As we have seen in numerous cases, when employers cite an incident that occurred months prior to termination as a reason for firing an employee, they leave themselves open for charges of wrongful termination and accusations of retaliation for other actions. It seems that if the coach’s actions during the February game, which are seen on tape, were serious enough to warrant termination, it should have been done then and there. Instead, university officials waited until she finished a winning season.

U-T San Diego, “Burns files wrongful termination claim” Mark Zeigler, Oct. 14, 2013

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