The University of Florida and attorneys representing a former Gator student-athlete, who alleged that she was discriminated against because she was a lesbian, have reached a legal settlement that seemingly has more than satisfied both sides.
In essence, UF will institute policy changes and a model training program to educate about harassment and discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and athletes. However, UF admits no guilt and no money changed hands.
Andrea Zimbardi was on full scholarship as a catcher on the Florida softball team when she began to experience discrimination. The alleged treatment began when a new coach, Karen Johns, was hired, who she claimed didn’t approve of her sexual preference.
Zimbardi claimed that a position coach on Coach Johns’ staff began investigating Zimbardi’s private life, which alarmed her. She also felt she was being phased out of team activities. In February, she had a meeting with her parents, Johns, the position coach, AD Jeremy Foley and Associate AD Ann Marie Rogers.
Zimbardi said that Foley supported her in the meeting. However, the situation quickly deteriorated, with Johns eventually dismissing her. Zimbardi sued, with help from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a legal advocacy organization with a special project focused on providing legal assistance to athletes who face discrimination because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.
Zimbardi’s first claim alleged that UF violated her constitutional rights. Her second, brought by Norm Kent, a lawyer with AIDS Project Florida, claimed that UF violated its own non-discrimination policy, which states “the university is committed to non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations and veteran status.”
NCLR attorney Karen Doering said about the settlement that she was “really impressed with how the University has addressed this situation. UF has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring that all student athletes are treated fairly. Its new policies and training program are a model for other universities on how to effectively address allegations of homophobia and help prevent such incidents from occurring.”
According to the NCLR, UF will submit an application to the NCAA for restoration of Zimbardi’s final year of eligibility and pay for Zimbardi’s Master’s degree studies at the university.
UF Associate Athletic Director and SWA Lynda Tealer said in a statement that the university “is committed to creating a positive atmosphere for all student-athletes. We feel that the terms of this agreement support our commitment and facilitate the provision of additional tools and training to our coaches, student-athletes and staff.”