Trial moves to ex-coach's sex appeal

Minutes before lunch Thursday, Fresno State lawyer Mick Marderosian filled a courtroom wall with a photo of Stacy Johnson-Klein in a low-cut dress, and her trial entered new territory.

The sex appeal of the former women's basketball coach is finally in the spotlight. It came on the seventh day of the trial of Johnson-Klein's sexual discrimination lawsuit against the university.

The effect of Johnson-Klein's sex appeal at Fresno State from 2002 to early 2005 is a key to the trial, one that has been hinted at in earlier testimony, but never tackled head-on.

That changed Thursday during testimony by a former Fresno State athletic department official in Fresno County Superior Court.

A black-and-white copy of a photo displayed by Marderosian on a courtroom screen taken in 2004 showed a smiling Johnson-Klein wearing a low-cut dress. Her arms are at her sides, tucked close to her body, and a substantial amount of her breasts are exposed.

Former associate athletic director Randy Welniak testified this photo was among some two dozen photos Johnson-Klein had taken by a professional photographer. She had handed them to Welniak for his review because she felt they were appropriate to include in her team's 2004-2005 media guide.

Other photos displayed in court showed Johnson-Klein in what looked like a leopard-skin outfit and in a lacy, low-cut dress with a shawl over the right side of her chest.

Welniak, Johnson-Klein's supervisor, approved only one of the photos for the media guide. He said it was cropped for modesty reasons.

In early October 2004, Welniak said he met with Johnson-Klein to discuss the photos. Asked by Marderosian what he told her, Welniak answered, "Stacy, I really don't think these photographs should be in the media guide."

They weren't appropriate, Welniak said he told her.

This meeting was the first of two between Welniak and Johnson-Klein at which her choice of clothes, at some games as well as in selected published photos, was discussed.

According to Welniak, Johnson-Klein's explanation was simple: She was only promoting the program.

She cried at the second meeting in January because she was upset with his comments, Welniak said.

On Jan. 30, Johnson-Klein told athletic director Scott Johnson in an e-mail she was being harassed by Welniak about her attire, and she wanted a woman for a supervisor.

Johnson told Welniak the next day to begin gathering information on an assistant coach's allegations that Johnson-Klein was acting strangely and her program was in chaos.

On Feb. 9, the university suspended Johnson-Klein. On March 2, it fired her, alleging she had endangered the health and welfare of her players and violated university policy.

In August 2005, Johnson-Klein sued Fresno State. The university retaliated against her because she is a woman who stood up for gender equity and refused to be treated as a sex object, she alleges.

And since Oct. 16, the legal teams of Johnson-Klein and Fresno State have battled over many of the lawsuit's issues: prescription painkillers, employee-assistance programs, unpaid restaurant bills, questionable expense reports, hurried investigations.

Much of Thursday's testimony centered on the interpretation and volatility of sex appeal.

Johnson-Klein contends she is the victim of a male-dominated institution that willingly cashed in on her sex appeal when she compliantly focused on attracting ticket-buying fans, then fired her when she showed some gender-equity backbone.

The school says Johnson-Klein willingly promoted her sex appeal into a starring role in Fresno State athletics, and claimed victim status only when she was warned for pushing the boundary of good taste too far.

Welniak said he told Johnson-Klein that some fans and boosters had concerns about her attire, which they considered immodest for a university representative. He said he told her it "was not appropriate for a Division I coach."

Welniak said he also thought Johnson-Klein had carried self-promotion too far at a booster club fundraiser at a north Fresno country club. At the dinner, the only photos on the tables were of Johnson-Klein in a low-cut pink blouse.

Players were required to go table to table, selling the Johnson-Klein-autographed photos to boosters, Welniak said. The players clearly were uncomfortable, he said.

There were no photos of the team or individual players at the dinner, Welniak said. He said he later asked Johnson-Klein why.

Johnson-Klein said selling photos of herself was a way to raise money for the program, Welniak said.