Former Women’s Basketball Coach Sues Miami

Dec 15, 2005

The former women’s basketball coach at the University of Miami has sued the school for age and gender discrimination.
Ferne Labati, a 2004 inductee in the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame, alleged last month in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, that UM’s decision to fire her following a 13-16 season “was based on her age and, thus, constituted age discrimination as proscribed by (Florida state law).” She is seeking damages, including punitive damages, reinstatement, and attorney’s fees and costs.
The 60-year-old Labati, who is represented by William R. Amlong and Karen Coolman Amlong, of Amlong & Amlong, P.A., in Fort Lauderdale, FL., structured her case around the fact that:
• UM interviewed only replacement candidates in their late 30s and early 40s — Melanie Balcomb, 43; Dawn Staley, 35; Joanne Boyle, 42; Katie Meier, 37; and Labati’s former assistant, Robin Harmony, 44. Further, it did not grant an interview to Cindy Russo, the 52-year-old Florida International University coach whose 556 victories, since the NCAA started keeping track in 1982, makes her the number 13 winningest women’s basketball coach in the nation.
• UM fired Labati after a 13-16 season — her first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, playing the third toughest schedule in the nation with her star forward, Melissa Knight, out with a knee injury.
• UM continued to employ Tricia Taliaferro, the 32-year-old head coach of the women’s soccer team, who acknowledged that her 2004 3-13 record was “embarrassing for everyone,” and who followed that with another losing (8-11-1) season.
• UM fired Lebati after a single losing season, but had kept its former men’s basketball coach, Perry Clark until after he suffered two consecutive losing seasons, i.e., 11-17 in 2002-2003 and 14-16 in 2003-2004.
Further, the complaint raised the fact that Labati’s 71-45 record for the four years prior to her being fired at age 59 (18-11, 18-12, 22-6 and 13-16) was better than the 61-54 record she had prior to having her contract renewed in 2001 at age 55 (19-10, 15-14, 14-15, and 13-15).
The complaint also noted that Labati had led the program to nine post-season tournaments, most recently in 2003 and 2004. It also quoted her replacement, Katie Meier, on UM’s web site on April 8, 2005 as saying, “The University of Miami women’s basketball program has become one of the most consistent programs in the country over the last 16years. UM’s success can be attributed to a woman who has guided the Hurricanes since 1988.” It also quoted Meier as saying, during a media interview, that Labati had run a “championship” program that was not “in shambles” and did not need “rebuilding.”
Labati sought to connect the action beyond Athletic Director Paul Dee to the university itself, noting in her complaint that “UM’s higher management was aware” of “the discrimination” and “ratified it.”
Labati recently told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel: “I’m damaged goods now. People that know me look at me and say, `Tell me the truth. There has to be something else why they fired you.’ What coach do you know works for a company for 17 years, bleeds orange and green, and the athletic director walks into their office and says, `You’re fired’ after one bad season?”


Articles in Current Issue