ATLANTA — A jury today ruled in favor of a University of Georgia instructor who claimed that she was fired for speaking out against special treatment for student athletes, ordering that she be paid damages of more than $2.5 million.
After deciding that former Assistant Prof. Jan Kemp's free speech rights had been violated, the jury awarded her $79,680 in back pay, $200,000 for mental stress, $1 for damage to her reputation, $1.5 million in punitive damages from Virginia Trotter, university vice president for academic affairs, and $800,000 in punitive damages from Leroy Ervin, director of the Developmental Studies program.
The U.S. District Court jury returned its verdict after deliberating more than 10 hours over three days.
Kemp's suit charged that she was demoted and then fired from the university because she spoke out against preferential treatment for student athletes in the remedial Developmental Studies program.
'Beyond ... Wildest Dreams'
Kemp said the award was "beyond my wildest dreams" and added that her motive in filing the suit had been primarily to "clean up" the university. She said she plans to give some of the money to her church.
Asked whether the verdict went beyond the question of her job and sent a message about the treatment of student athletes, Kemp replied, "Definitely."
Judge Horace Ward gave Kemp's lawyers 15 days to file a motion for reinstatement in her job and reimbursement of attorneys' fees.
State officials expressed shock at the size of the award.
"I fainted," Gov. Joe Frank Harris said. "Seriously, I'm amazed. It appears to be excessive. I never dreamed there would be an award of that magnitude."
Hopes for Appeal
"I don't know enough about the evidence to comment on the jury verdict, but I hope the attorney general appeals it," state House Speaker Tom Murphy said.
Lawyers initially predicted that the trial would take about two weeks, but as the focus of the proceedings shifted to details of the treatment given revenue-producing athletes, the trial stretched to five weeks.
While the length of the trial surprised her, Kemp said she was glad it provided a forum to air what she saw as academic corruption at the university.
"I'm hoping it will have widespread, therapeutic effects nationwide," Kemp said. "I think other schools are guilty of the same academic transgressions. Maybe they'll examine their programs."