Former San Diego State University women's basketball coach Beth Burns on Wednesday filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the school and the California State University board of trustees.
Burns claims she was forced to resign because of her objections to the way the administration treated women's basketball and not because she struck a subordinate.
"SDSU fired her in retaliation for her unwavering demands that SDSU put women’s basketball and men’s athletics on an equal footing," according to the complaint. "In a feeble attempt to cover up the real reason for firing her, SDSU fabricated a pretextual explanation for her termination that was intentionally and devastatingly harmful to her."
A San Diego State University spokesman said the university does not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.
In April 2013, Burns said she was given the option of resigning or being fired, and she decided to resign so as not to lose certain retirement benefits.
According to the lawsuit, school officials showed a video of her making "incidental physical contact" with assistant Adam Barrett during a game in February, saying it was their sole cause for dismissing her.
"We believe the video evidence is simply a pretext," said attorney Ed Chapin, a partner with Chapin Fitzgerald LLP who is helping represent Burns. "They wanted to get rid of her for a number of reasons.
"If you look at the video, that doesn't constitute good cause."
Burns, who had four years remaining on her contract, is looking to recoup $880,000 in lost salary, plus benefits, as well as compensation for wrongful termination.
Chapin said Burns has been unable to find a job despite being the winningest coach in SDSU women's basketball history.
"She's an icon in San Diego," he said. "She's put women's basketball in San Diego on the map."
Burns went 295-186 during a 16-year career at SDSU. She led the Aztecs to six regular season conference titles, seven NCAA tournament berths and one Sweet 16 appearance.
She was the Mountain West coach of the year in 2012-2013, her last with the Aztecs, and was a finalist for national coach of the year honors.
Chapin said Burns was fired for being outspoken about what she saw as a lack of support by the SDSU administration.
"Coach Burns had to fight for the women’s basketball team to have clean gear and equipment, a strength coach, and facility time during the off-season, even though the men’s basketball team regularly trained with these benefits during the off-season," according to the complaint.
She spent thousands of dollars of her own money to purchase food, gear and practice equipment, and for other expenses.
Chapin said Burns' termination is another example of the disparity of treatment given the men's and women's athletic programs at SDSU.
The lawsuit claims former Aztec football coach Tom Craft slapped a freshman player across the face in 2002 but was not reprimanded.
In the lawsuit, Burns said she was never criticized for her bench decorum by the university's presidents, who attend several home and away games in close proximity to the bench.
Burns even received a letter of commendation from current SDSU president Elliot Hirshman less than a month before being terminated, according to the complaint.
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