Dismissed coach gives her side of the story

June 25, 2007 

Former Fresno State volleyball coach Lindy Vivas said she was undermined by an athletic department official who met secretly with one of her players.

Vivas testified in her civil trial Tuesday that her supervisor, former associate athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois, met privately on several occasions without Vivas' knowledge with team captain Kristen Fenton, who quit during the 2004 season.

Vivas called the secret meetings "ultimate undermining" by Reed-Francois and said she felt "[Reed-Francois] wanted that player to quit."

Vivas is suing Fresno State for $4.1 million, saying she was fired in 2004 for her outspoken advocacy of gender equity and for her perceived sexual orientation.

Vivas also recalled Reed-Francois continuously demanding the coach turn in the equipment contracts with Asics, despite informing Reed-Francois she didn't have the documents. Vivas said she felt unfairly treated by having to devise a program strategic plan three times while other coaches only had to turn in one.

When Vivas was asked by her attorney, Dan Siegel, how she felt the day she was fired, she replied: "It was humiliating. It was embarrassing. ... It was devastating. It killed my spirit."

Dawn Theodora, the attorney for Fresno State, said outside the courtroom Tuesday that she intends to show the jury that Vivas was an uncooperative employee who was difficult to get along with.

"If indeed anyone was being unprofessional or acting inappropriate to co-workers, it's Lindy Vivas," Theodora said. "She has a really unique perspective of the world. She seems to think every issue was somehow calculated as a personal affront on her."

Theodora introduced messages as evidence that showed Vivas getting reprimanded for her behavior at an athletic department meeting, which ended with Vivas and former Fresno State director of men's basketball operations Jack Fertig yelling with one another over practice facility usage.

One memo, sent by former athletic director Al Bohl to Vivas, asked her to behave in a "professional manner" in dealing with other employees.

"People are just trying to work with her to get stuff done and she's just difficult with people," Theodora said outside court. "She gives general claims that male coaches were doing this and that to her, but she hasn't really explained anything in detail.

"And there's a lot of ground to cover still."

The university says Vivas' contract was not renewed because she failed to fulfill provisions such as scheduling more Top-25 opponents, winning more postseason matches and increasing attendance.

Vivas maintains all that would have been possible had she been able to play all matches at the Save Mart Center instead of the old and cramped North Gym. Vivas said the Save Mart Center, which opened in 2003, was the key to recruiting and scheduling. But not being able to play more than one match per season there hurt her credibility.

"All I was doing was asking for the same advantage given to every other tier-one sport," Vivas said.

Vivas cited receiving a mandate from university president John Welty that encouraged the recruiting of out-of-state athletes to help comply with Title IX gender equity regulations (a scholarship given to an out-of-state athlete would cost more for the university that one given to California recruits, thus more money could be booked to women's sports).

But when Vivas' contract was not renewed at the end of 2004, Vivas said the program's lack of local athletes was used against her.

"I felt retaliated against," Vivas said after Tuesday's hearing.

Vivas said she reapplied for her position but was not interviewed. The job went to Ruben Nieves, the current coach. She said she applied for the head coach's position at Pacific and looked into jobs at UC-Davis and San Jose State, but was was not interviewed for any of them.

Even what appeared to be trivial issues were brought up. Vivas told jurors she asked for a small increase in the volleyball program's budget to cover the cost of in-hotel, pay-per-view movies while on the road. Vivas said her request was not granted. She said she was denied a request for snacks for players during preseason practices, which the football program did for its players.

In addition, when Vivas asked Reed-Francois for a copy of the athletic department's budget, Siegel said Vivas was told to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Theodora said she plans to fill in all the holes and left-out facts for the jury today with the continued cross examination of Vivas expected to last at least three hours. Vivas has been on the stand the past two days.

"I'm confident once we get all the information out, the picture will be much clearer," Theodora said.

Former player Tiffany Bishop is expected to testify today before the cross examination of Vivas begins.

In earlier testimony, Vivas said former administrator John Kriebs, who served as Vivas' supervisor from 2001 through 2003, once came up to her after her team won a match and rubbed her back from the neck to her lower back and across her shoulders.

"I wanted to cringe," Vivas said. "I froze because there were lots of people standing in the gym. If I did something they would think something had happened."

She added, "It was gross."

The Fresno Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service