Florida Gulf Coastal University Settles Gender Discrimination Lawsuits Brought by Coaches

Nov 7, 2008

By Lyssa Myska Allen
A school that should be known for its remarkable transition from NAIA to Division I preliminary status in just 7 years is getting quite the reputation for something else – its gender discrimination litigation.
The school settled Title IX lawsuits with a couple female coaches earlier this fall, which may have led to the abrupt retirement of two of the school’s administrators.
Former women’s volleyball head coach Jaye Flood and former women’s golf head coach Holly Vaughn had sued FGCU in federal court, claiming retaliation for bringing to light concerns that they had about gender discrimination as well as their own alleged mistreatment. As part of the settlement, Flood received $2,965,000, while Vaughn pocketed $435,000.
FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw said that the payments will come from the university’s insurance policy, not donor money or tuition revenue. FGCU also agreed to a full gender equity compliance review, a campus attitude survey, and personnel policy review.
Flood, 51, was hired in September 2003, a year before the Eagles’ inaugural volleyball season. Her teams amassed a 96-15 record in three-plus years. She earned Atlantic Sun Conference Coach of the Year honors in 2007. In October of that year, Flood was suspended with pay for a shirt-grabbing incident with a player. Nothing came of that allegation, but University President Wilson Bradshaw announced in January 2008 that he would fire Flood for sexually harassing a student team manager, wasting that student’s time, and abusing her authority as a coach. That decision was made just four days after Flood filed a Title IX lawsuit in federal court.
Vaughn, 46, was hired in November 1999, one year before the debut of the women’s golf program. Vaughn’s teams won 11 of 53 golf tournaments during her seven years. She resigned in October 2007. Although Vaughn was not fired, she joined Flood’s lawsuit in May of 2008, citing similar claims.
Previously, former athletic director Merrily Dean Baker had issued a gender-equity complaint in May 2007 on behalf of four female coaches, outlining poor treatment of female coaches and athletes, subpar funding of women’s programs, salary discrepancies, lack of marketing for women’s sports, and better benefits for male coaches. Six weeks later, the university ruled it had done nothing wrong. At the same time, Flood and Vaughn received less-than-stellar performance evaluations.
“These were accomplished coaches and role models,” said Linda Correia, lead counsel for Public Justice, the firm that filed the lawsuit on behalf of Flood and later Vaughn.
FGCU’s attorney Aaron Behar advised the university’s Board of Trustees in two separate meetings this past summer that the gender equities complaints against the university were strong, according to transcripts obtained as part of a public records request.
Besides the credibility issue pointed primarily at former interim FGCU President Richard Pegnetter and university ombudsman Charles McKinney, Behar had several other concerns about going to trial. He said poor record keeping by administrators, a longer line of witnesses who could testify against the university’s case, and the lack of financial limitations involving Title IX cases were sufficient reasons to avoid a jury trial.
“You essentially stop the bleeding at some point,” Behar told the media. “With going to trial you have everything becoming public, all the transcripts, all the documents, all the dirty laundry, so to speak, now gets aired out.”
Additionally, former university attorney Wendy Morris will receive $800,000 to settle a lawsuit dealing with allegations of gender discrimination. The settlement with Morris became effective on Sept. 25.
As for the retiring administrators, Richard Pegnetter announced that he would be retiring as the dean of the College of Business in 10 months. As the interim president of the university for nearly nine months in 2007, Pegnetter found himself in the crossfire of all of the eventual lawsuits. He was the one who fired Morris; Morris claimed in her lawsuit that Pegnetter had tried to cover up the initial claims of sex discrimination in the athletics department, particularly involving Flood and Vaughn.
Pegnetter said Thursday that there is no correlation between the settlements and his retirement announcement. The 67-year-old noted his age and said he had planned to retire even earlier but his time as interim president delayed the decision. “If there was some interest with getting me out of my position because of the settlement, wouldn’t I be gone sooner?” Pegnetter said about the timing of the settlement. “You wouldn’t want me hanging around for 10 more months.”
FGCU Athletic Director Carl McAloose has also announced his retirement, effective
October 31. McAloose has worked at FGCU since 2000, before the school even fielded sports teams. It jumped from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I in just seven years.
Many credit McAloose with building the program literally from the ground up, including a $30 million dollar stadium. McAloose’s programs won 75 percent of their games (volleyball, softball, and baseball all won A-Sun titles in their first D-I seasons last year), and 65 percent of its student-athletes were named to All-Atlantic Sun Conference academic teams last year.
“It was about five seconds after I heard about the settlement agreement,” said McAloose of his decision to resign. “That’s about all I can get into it at this point. That’s when I made my final decision. I had been considering it with some things going on, but that’s when I made my final decision.” McAloose, will have the remainder of his contract paid in full, a total of $653,872.
Jo-Ann Nester came to Florida Gulf Coast University just over two years ago as associate athletics director for compliance, largely to work with athletics director Carl McAloose. After McAloose’s resignation, Nester finds herself assigned to take his place on an interim basis as of that date.
FGCU will begin a national search late this year or early next with the intention of filling the position full-time by July. Nester will draw McAloose’s annual salary of $160,447 in the interim.
If this is FGCU’s growing pains, supporters hope they’ve seen the worst. With new incoming administrators and increased scrutiny, the university hopes to that they’re on the right track.


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