Beth Burns had more wins than any other women’s basketball coach at San Diego State University. In 2013 her team finished with 27 wins — the most ever for the school.
Then she was forced out, after 16 years at SDSU. She had four years left on her contract.
This week, a jury awarded Burns nearly $3.4 million after she alleged she had been discriminated against because she’s a woman.
SDSU claimed she was terminated for her behavior during a home game in 2013. Burns allegedly made physical contact with a male assistant coach.
But Burns said she was forced out for speaking out about her belief that women’s athletics should get the same resources as men’s. Burns took issue with discrepancies about the number of tutors, housing support and practice space, among other things.
In the suit, Burns alleged she was made to “count male practice players as female participants” in the university’s gender equity report, which is submitted annually to the U.S. Department of Education.
“Coach Burns’ frequent communications about the pervasive, ongoing gender inequalities she observed in San Diego State’s athletic programs were protected disclosures under the California Whistleblower Protection Act,” one her attorneys said in a statement.
That state law protects employees who “report possible violations of the law,” the attorney said. A federal law known as Title IX mandates that schools must treat men’s and women’s sports programs the same.
During the trial, several coaches, colleagues and players supported Burns’ allegations. Steve Fisher, the head coach of SDSU’s men’s basketball team, spoke on her behalf.
The jury — five women and seven men — delivered the verdict on Thursday.
Burns is currently the associate head coach of women’s basketball at the University of Southern California.
In a statement, she said she was grateful for the support she’d received from her legal team, the jury and her current and former colleagues.
“Most of all, thank you to my Aztec players and coaches,” Burns said. “It is your belief in me, and what we did together, that matters the most. Together.”
SDSU said it was reviewing the verdict and deciding how to respond. The university also said it strives to create “an environment” that “treats all individuals with dignity and respect.”