Lawsuits never cease to amaze me. Millions or even billions of dollars seem to be just one trial lawyer away.
But sometimes a case goes a step further beyond reason. Occasionally, a trial can actually make the problem worse.
For example, a court in North Carolina recently awarded $2 million in punitive damages to Heather Sue Mercer, a former walk-on kicker for Duke University”s football team.
Duke was found guilty under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in educational programs receiving federal funds.
Former Duke football coach Fred Goldsmith allowed Mercer to join the team in 1995 then cut her in the following spring.
“They let her participate,” said NCAA Management Council Vice-Chairman Percy Bates, who also teaches at the School of Education. “That is not discrimination. That is opportunity.”
Under Title IX, schools are not required to allow women to try out for contact sports. However, once Duke put Mercer on the team, the school was responsible for treating her equally, according to a previous federal appeals court decision in this case.
Mercer claims that she was treated differently from the men while on the team she was not allowed to dress for games or participate in summer camp or full-contact scrimmages.
However, a team only needs so many kickers and coaches from Duke testified that her role with the team was consistent with some of the male walk-on players.
In addition, her dismissal in the spring of 1996 came after a tryout where she did not perform well.
“She did as poor a job as anyone I”ve ever seen,” Goldsmith testified. “The kicks were very, very weak. Her leg strength and trajectory were entirely foreign for anything I”ve seen on a college football team.”
So why did the jury award her the big bucks? Simple. Mercer”s lawyers painted Goldsmith as the kind of ignorant, thoughtless and basically evil figure that juries love to take money from.
Mercer testified that Goldsmith made sexist comments to her, such as asking why she was interested in football instead of beauty pageants.
The jury loved that one.
Duke President Nannerl O. Keohane testified that Goldsmith “did make some statements that were unfortunate.”
That, my friends, is quite the understatement.
Okay, so Goldsmith was a chauvinistic pig. Why didn”t they sue him for sexual harassment? Because going after a rich University like Duke with a Title IX suit would land more greenbacks in the lawyers” pockets.
Mercer didn”t even want the case to go to trial. She would have been happy with an apology and a scholarship in her name.
Today, Mercer doesn”t have her millions Duke is currently appealing the $2 million sentence or her apology.
And after watching this circus, you can bet that every college football coach in America will think twice before giving anyone that “opportunity” again.
At least the lawyers have their money.
Daily Sports Editor Steve Jackson can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.