Former Basketball Coach Loses Battle for Attorney Fees

Nov 18, 2005

A Florida appeals court has reversed and remanded an administrative order granting full attorney fees to former University of South Florida women’s basketball coach Jerry Ann Winters, who had sued USF for wrongful termination. Specifically, the appeals court found that the administrative law judge failed to consider the relationship between the coach’s successful and unsuccessful claims in awarding fees.
The underlying facts of the case centered on allegations that Winters discriminated against members of her team based on their race. Those allegations began shortly after her arrival at USF for the 1996-97 season. Eventually, her players complained to an associate athletic director, who relayed his findings to his superiors.
Winters was eventually fired, and the USF Athletic Director Paul Griffin resigned soon after amid charges that he participated in a cover up. Here is what followed thereafter:
• Florida Division of Administrative Hearings Judge William F. Quattlebaum determined that USF did not build an adequate case when it fired Winters from her job on Dec. 14, 2000, and that she should be reinstated with back pay.
• USF President Judy Genshaft, within minutes of that ruling, issued a statement saying the school would not abide by the ruling and that the judge had a “technical” disagreement with how the school conducted its investigation. It further charged that the judge didn’t fully consider that Winters was fired for breach of contract.
• The Southern Christian Leadership Conference called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the scandal, issuing a strongly worded statement in August, which suggested that black athletes at USF were subject to “Jim Crow and apartheid treatment.”
• Federal law suits were amended and filed in August, in the Middle District of Florida, on behalf of two of the eight players that initially filed federal lawsuits. In the documents, attorney Jonathon Alpert of Alpert & Ferrentino in Tampa charges among other things, a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a violation of the Ku Klux Klan Act.
In her complaint, Winters claimed that the USF administration engaged in “Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy,” violating the Ku Klux Klan Act (42 U.S.C. $$ 1985(3), 1986. The first example of this, she alleged, was when the administration fired her to better “limit their exposure and conceal the existence” of the conspiracy. Another example was the forced exit of Griffin.
“(A)lthough it is well-known on the USF campus and elsewhere around the country that there were and are serious racial problems and issues in the USF basketball program on the USF campus, USF and the USF Foundation continue to maintain that nothing serious took place, that only racial ‘insensitivity’ was involved and that the very injured African-American athletes were not the victims of state-sponsored racism as Genshaft well knows they were,” according to the complaint..
Ultimately, a Florida appeals court affirmed the decision to terminate Winters. See Winters v. Fla. Bd. of Regents, 864 So. 2d 418 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003) (table decision).
Board of Regents and the University of South Florida v. Jerry Ann Winters; Fla. 2d DCA 2003; Case No. 2D04-3298
Attorneys of Record: (for appellants) John W. Campbell, Michael D. Malfitano, and Monica J. Williams of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLC, and Olga J. Joanow, Associate General Counsel, University of South Florida, Tampa. (for appellee) Mark F. Kelly of Kelly & McKee, P.A., Tampa.


Articles in Current Issue