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Former Basketball Coach Awarded $3.36 Million for Wrongful Termination in Retaliation for Gender Discrimination Complaint

Emanuel Shirazi

When Beth Burns, the former San Diego State University women’s basketball coach was fired back in 2013, it came as quite a shock. Not only did the termination follow an impressive 27-win season, but within the previous year she had been given a five year extension on her contract (along with a whopping $220,000 salary.) Recently a jury awarded her $3.36 million because they found she was wrongfully terminated because she complained that the men’s and women’s basketball teams were not treated equally (gender discrimination.)

So then what grounds did the University have in firing Burns?

The SDSU Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, Jim Sterk, claims that Burns hit her assistant coach, Adam Barretts, with a clipboard and then elbowed him another time during a game. Sterk gave Burns the option of resigning, retiring, or being fired. Burns chose retirement but then sued the university in 2014 for breach of contract and breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing and retaliation.

Burns disagrees with Sterk’s allegations. Instead, she believes that she was fired for being a whistleblower; exposing the fact that men’s and women’s basketball teams weren’t being treated equally. She also complained about potential Title IX violations. Burns also alleged that others were fired for demanding that female athletes be treated equally.

After a month of testimony and two days of deliberation, a five-woman, seven-man jury delivered the verdict, Beth Burns would receive $3.36 million for wrongful termination in her whistleblower lawsuit against the University. Burns’ attorney also claimed that SDSU “assassinated” her character during the trial and that her reputation would forever be ruined. Burns currently works at USC and earns about $150,000 per season.

What do you think of the jury’s message to the University about retaliating against someone who claims gender discrimination?

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