Panel finds unanimously on majority of questions in discrimination suit.
The jury’s monetary award to Vivas was broken down as follows:
Past non-economic losses: $2,625,000
Future non-economic losses: $875,000
Past economic losses: $550,000
Future economic losses: $1,802,069
Spectators cheered and jurors smiled Monday afternoon as former volleyball coach Lindy Vivas was awarded $5,852,069 — almost $2 million more than what she had asked for in her discrimination case against Fresno State.
It’s the largest amount awarded in a case against Fresno State.
“I think it validates what we’ve been saying happened at the university all these years,” Vivas said moments after the verdict was announced. “And I hope it shines a big light on the university — all the way up to the chancellor’s office.
“They may want to consider taking issues more seriously from now on. And they need to start listening.”
In a statement, Fresno State said it would appeal and blamed the media for the verdict: “The excessive, and in some cases inaccurate, publicity surrounding this case in Fresno may have affected the result of this trial.”
Fresno State attorney Dawn Theodora, who was out of town Monday, wrote in a text message, “This bizarre outcome is not based on any of the evidence. It is shocking.”
The Fresno County Superior Court jury clearly sided with Vivas. The nine women and three men found in Vivas’ favor on 12 of 13 questions in the verdict, unanimously eight times.
Nine said Fresno State discriminated against Vivas because of her perceived sexual orientation, the minimum required for a finding.
Fresno State’s only victory: The jury said the university didn’t discriminate against Vivas because of her marital status.
Sue Westover, who substituted for Theodora since closing arguments ended last week, said, “We think that the jury’s vision of the evidence was tainted by some of the evidentiary rulings made in the case… stuff that was inflammatory but really remote in time.
“We’re shocked by the dollar numbers,” Westover added. “We think they were prompted by their hearts and not their minds.”
Westover said jurors cheered when Vivas entered the jury room after the verdict was read. It is a common practice for parties in civil cases to meet the jury.
“Jurors aren’t supposed to be that passionate about a case,” Westover said. “They’re supposed to be more neutral.”
Juror Tyler Moore of Kingsburg, a Fresno State student, said the jury had concluded in Vivas’ favor Friday but needed Monday to calculate how much money to award her.
Those in the gallery of the packed courtroom stood to applaud the jury as trial ended after spanning more than a month with 18 days in court and three days of deliberation.
Vivas received $2,625,000 for past emotional loss, $1,802,069 for future economic loss, $875,000 for future emotional loss and $550,000 for past economic loss.
“When it comes to feelings and emotions, you can never put a cost to that,” said Tina Richardson, the jury forewoman from Selma. “It was just an injustice.”
Vivas, 50, was suing Fresno State for $4.1 million, saying her contract was not renewed in 2004 because of her perceived sexual orientation and outspoken advocacy for Title IX laws, which require institutions that receive federal money to provide equal opportunity for women.
University officials denied any discrimination, saying they did not renew Vivas’ contract because of performance. The university claimed Vivas scheduled too few Top 25 opponents, didn’t win in the postseason and failed to increase attendance.
Several past and present Fresno State coaches and administrators — including university President John Welty, former athletic director Scott Johnson and former women’s basketball coach Stacy Johnson-Klein — testified.
Some testimony centered on how Fresno State officials felt about lesbians and whether administrators referred to Vivas’ sexual orientation.
Many of the jurors said Vivas’ sexual orientation wasn’t a large issue. The key, a few said, was the university’s refusal to allow the volleyball team to play full time in the Save Mart Center — just as the men’s and women’s basketball teams did.
One piece of evidence that some jurors pointed to was a Fresno State document that stated the volleyball team would play in the $100 million-plus arena that opened in the fall of 2003.
But unlike the men’s and women’s basketball teams, which played all their home games at the Save Mart Center, the volleyball team played there just twice during Vivas’ tenure. Since then, the majority of the volleyball home matches have been scheduled at the Save Mart Center.
Juror Diane Bogosian of Fresno called Johnson “not credible” and said she believed only parts of Welty’s testimony. She added that she didn’t believe much of what Johnson-Klein had to say.
Jurors pointed to testimony from Pat Ogle, the Bulldog Foundation executive director, as credible and persuasive. Ogle testified that he had raised concerns about Johnson’s promotion to athletic director.
Former associate athletic director Diane Milutinovich, who has her own discrimination lawsuit against Fresno State pending, was seen by jurors as an expert in female athletics.
Ogle and Milutinovich didn’t provide vague answers or respond with “I don’t recall,” said Bogosian, a certified public accountant. Instead, she said, “they provided feedback.”
Bogosian said that Welty’s admission that he should not have hired Johnson was telling.
“Welty admitted it was a mistake,” Bogosian said. “It was a $5.8 million mistake.”