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Fresno State suit is settled for $3.5m

Fresno State has agreed to pay Diane Milutinovich $3.5 million to settle the former associate athletic director's sexual discrimination lawsuit against the university, lawyers for both sides announced Thursday afternoon.

The deal also calls for the university to honor Milutinovich, a retired university administrator who worked at California State University, Fresno, for 27 years, with the honorary title "emeritus." The university and the California State University board of trustees acknowledged no liability or wrongdoing.

This is the first of three big sex discrimination lawsuits involving Fresno State to be settled.

At a news conference at the Fresno County Courthouse, Milutinovich thanked her family, friends and legal team for their support since a job reassignment in 2002 led her to file a discrimination lawsuit.

Milutinovich had been reassigned from the athletic department, where she had been senior women's athletic administrator for 21 years, to a management position in the University Student Union. In a lawsuit filed in 2004, she alleged the move was in retaliation for her advocacy of equal treatment for female athletes.

The university said she was reassigned because her job in the athletic department had been eliminated to save money.

Milutinovich left the university in 2006. The university said she had been placed on administrative leave; she said she had been fired.

"I'm personally pleased to have this lawsuit settled," Milutinovich said. "I settled it with the hope that the university will focus on the future and begin to comply with the law and treat all students and their coaches equitably."

Fresno State vice president for administration Cynthia Teniente-Matson read a statement from President John Welty:

"With the resolution of this matter, the university can put this past issue behind us and begin to focus on the future.

"We've made great progress in gender equity and Fresno State will remain vigilant and continue to ensure that we not only comply with the law but we actually lead the way.

"We pledge to continue to work with a sense of urgency and commitment to build on the progress we've made in gender equity over the past 10 years."

California State University lawyer Dawn Theodora read a statement from the system's trustees:

"The California State University is very pleased that the Milutinovich lawsuit has been settled. CSU believes that this positive resolution was the best course of action to benefit the community, the university, our students and the individual involved."

CSU spokeswoman Claudia Keith said both the campus and CSU agreed to the settlement. Teniente-Matson said the $3.5 million will be paid by the California State University Risk Management Authority. This quasi-public entity provides pooled insurance services to CSU campuses and their auxiliaries.

Milutinovich lawyer Dan Siegel said the key to success in the settlement talks "was reaching a number that was fair."

Warren Paboojian, another lawyer representing Milutinovich, said his client clearly had a strong case: "You don't pay $3.5 million to somebody that doesn't have a strong case."

With her mother and two brothers looking on, Milutinovich said her long legal journey taught her the importance of standing up for fairness and equity: "Hopefully, when you do that, you'll leave it better for those who come after you."

Thursday's announcement came after about five hours of jury selection in the sexual discrimination lawsuit of former Fresno State women's basketball coach Stacy Johnson-Klein. Jury selection will continue Monday.

Johnson-Klein, who was fired in March 2005, alleges the university retaliated against her because of her complaints about unequal treatment of female athletes. She also claims sexual harassment.

The university says it fired Johnson-Klein because her sometimes erratic behavior endangered her players and that she violated school policy.

And in July, a jury awarded $5.85 million to former volleyball coach Lindy Vivas in her sexual discrimination lawsuit against the university. She alleged she was fired because of her gender-equity advocacy.

The university said her contract was not renewed because of her job performance. Fresno State is seeking a new trial.

In a statement, state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, said the Milutinovich settlement coming a few months after the Vivas award "shows that there is definitely a pattern to the discrimination claims at Fresno State."

Florez is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Gender Discrimination and Title IX Implementation.

It held hearings this summer on efforts by the state's public-funded schools to comply with gender-equity laws.