Ex-Fresno St. coach awarded $19.1M in sex-discrimination lawsuit

Updated: December 6, 2007, 10:18 PM ET
Associated Press

FRESNO, Calif. -- A former Fresno State women's basketball coach was awarded $19.1 million Thursday in a sexual discrimination lawsuit that alleged she was fired because she advocated for women's rights.

The university argued that Stacy Johnson-Klein was fired because she was abusive, violated NCAA rules and inappropriately scored pain medication from one of her players.

Johnson-Klein told the Fresno Bee the jury's unanimous verdict was a victory for women in general and proof the legal system works.

"It's long, it's hard, it's not for the weak of heart," Johnson-Klein said outside court. "But it works, and I'm just very thankful it worked today."

After an eight-week trial, jurors deliberated about four hours Thursday before returning their verdict.

Fresno State president John Welty said the university plans to appeal.

"This fundamentally has always been an employment case," Welty said in a statement. "The university will always act when the health and welfare of its students is endangered."

The university's lawyer portrayed Johnson-Klein as a self-centered manipulator who ignored her players' welfare and ran roughshod over university policies in her pursuit of money, fame and power.

Johnson-Klein was fired in March 2005 after less than three seasons as the coach of the Bulldogs. She had more than three years left on her contract.

The university said an investigation revealed Johnson-Klein obtained a half-full bottle of Vicodin in September 2004 from one of her players and acknowledged taking one of the pills.

One of her attorneys, Warren Paboojian, said Johnson-Klein had a prescription for the medication because of a car accident, and had run out when she asked the player for the pills.

Johnson-Klein sued, alleging the investigation was launched only after she complained about gender discrimination, sexual harassment and Title IX violations at the school.

Johnson-Klein's lawyers did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press.

Thursday's verdict was the second judgment against Fresno State in a sexual discrimination lawsuit this year.

In July, a jury awarded former volleyball coach Lindy Vivas $5.85 million -- which a judge later reduced to $4.52 million -- in a lawsuit claiming she was fired because of her advocacy for gender equity and her perceived sexual orientation.

Vivas was fired in 2004, two years after coaching her team to its best season in history.

University officials had argued Vivas was fired because she didn't meet performance goals and ran a team that often played in empty arenas.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press