Burns v. SDSU in Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

In recent news, Beth Burns, the former women’s basketball coach, took the stand in the trial for her wrongful termination lawsuit against San Diego State University (SDSU). Burns was the coach of the San Diego State women’s team prior to her abrupt termination in April 2013. She was advised not to speak about the incident publicly by her legal counsel so when she took the stand, many were waiting to hear what she had to say on the subject. She was the first witness in her wrongful termination lawsuit against SDSU.

In speaking to the jury of seven men and five women in the San Diego Superior Court, Burns stated her case for 45 minutes. Judge John Meyer, presiding, adjourned court for the day and scheduled Burns to take the stand again for further testimony the following Wednesday, at which point, the university’s attorneys would be able to take the opportunity to cross-examine (either Wednesday or Thursday).

By the time the trial is completed, it is expected that four weeks will have passed and dozens of witnesses will have had their say (including Elliot Hirshman, SDSU president, Jim Sterk, athletic director, and Steve Fisher, men’s basketball coach). Many expect that the rare glimpse the proceedings will provide into the goings on of a college athletic department may not be very flattering.

Burns was with SDSU for 16 years. She was the all-time “winningest” women’s basketball coach. At the time of her termination (April 2013), she had just completed a school record 27-win season with her team. Burns claims she was fired without cause (breach of contract) and whistleblower retaliation based on claims that she was seeking equal opportunities for the women’s basketball program at the time of her abrupt termination. When she was fired, Burns was in the first year of her five-year contract extension. She was being paid $220,000 annually (before bonuses). Due to her termination, she had to take a different job that resulted in a drastic decrease in pay. She now works on Cynthia Cooper-Dyke’s staff at USC making $150,000 per season.

Burns seeks $1.5 million in damages for breach of contract. She also seeks $3 million for the whistleblower retaliation and punitive damages.

According to the university’s legal counsel, Burns was unable to control her emotions and the University felt that none of its employees should have to go to work “concerned about being confronted by their out-of-control boss.” The conflicting views of the case presented by opposing counsel is predictable, but it will still be an interesting case to watch unfold.

If you need to discuss wrongful termination with an experienced southern California employment law attorney, get in touch with Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik. We can assist you in determining the appropriate legal action for your specific situation!