SACRAMENTO – Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, questioned the response by leaders at CSU Fresno to a $5.85 million settlement against the university in a sex discrimination suit filed by a former volleyball coach.
In a statement on the website of school president John Welty, who testified on the school’s behalf in the suit, the university pledged to actively pursue an appeal of a jury decision they consider wrong and noted “No funds are paid until all appeals are exhausted.”
There are two similar cases are pending against the university, prompting Florez to question if there is a pattern of behavior toward female employees of the institution that would be best resolved by a change in leadership. If so, and if two more juries agree and rule against the school, the price tag could rise dramatically.
“The difficult problem with this situation is that it once again reiterates the fact that in government you can lose millions of dollars and still get to keep your job,” Florez said.
“Managers let lawsuits wash over, then go on with life. I think discrimination claims like this one committed by a high ranking government official – yes, CSU presidents are government officials – shouldn’t go unanswered, the settlement alone is way too big to ignore. And people have to be answerable to those who write the checks, like the state.”
To that end, Florez pledged to request a hearing of the Senate Education Committee to examine the facts that led a jury to find Welty had discriminated against the coach, and have Welty explain the decision to continue pouring university funds that could be better spent on education into his legal defense.
“The average person would not be able to cost their employer millions and expect to be employed tomorrow, let alone be defended by that employer at further expense,” Florez said. “And that ‘average person’ is the taxpayer funding Mr. Welty’s salary, so the public most definitely deserves answers.”
Florez said he would also look into creating a CSU policy under which a university would have to purchase insurance with non-state funds to cover future lawsuits once it has lost a large claim, to go after what he termed “the pattern effect.” He will also consider initiating mandatory training for top university executives to prevent future acts of discrimination.