SANTA ANA — Cal State Fullerton President Milton Gordon testified Tuesday that a recommendation to fire Jim Huffman as women's volleyball coach was made several weeks before Huffman filed a lawsuit that blocked the school's attempt to drop the sport.
"I couldn't pinpoint a specific meeting with (Titan Athletic Director) Bill Shumard, but he made the recommendation that the coach not be renewed based on performance," Gordon said during Huffman's wrongful-termination trial in Orange County Superior Court. "It was in December, 1991, or January, 1992."
University officials claim they decided in the fall of 1991 to terminate Huffman because of substandard performance. Huffman, who is seeking $1.2 million in damages, claims he was fired on March 23, 1992, because he spoke out against the school's poor gender-equity record and initiated successful legal proceedings that resulted in negative publicity.
Gordon's testimony corroborated the university's defense but also contradicted statements by Shumard in the two-week-old trial.
Gordon said Tuesday that he "accepted" Shumard's recommendation. But when asked last Wednesday whether Gordon approved the decision not to renew Huffman before the school announced it was dropping volleyball on Jan. 28, 1992, Shumard replied: "I don't recall (Gordon) ever commenting on it."
Kirk Boyd, one of Huffman's attorneys: "Isn't it true, to the best of your recollection, that President Gordon never approved the decision to terminate Coach Huffman before the decision to drop volleyball?"
Shumard: "To the best of my recollection, yes."
Huffman's attorneys must prove retaliation was a factor in his termination. Gordon said neither he nor any university official was retaliating.
"If I so much as thought that was happening, I would have stopped the process," Gordon said.
Maryalyce Jeremiah, Fullerton associate athletic director and one of several defense witnesses to testify this week, said she had several concerns with Huffman's program in 1991, including "players not attending study hall, mid-term progress reports, the team's won-loss record, a budget that wasn't balanced, and the on- and off-court conduct of the players."
Jeremiah, the women's basketball coach who became interim associate athletic director in the fall of 1990 after Leanne Grotke retired, said a recommendation was made in the fall of 1991 that Huffman not be given a new contract. But during cross-examination, she said she "couldn't remember who made the recommendation."
Jeremiah also testified that she never put anything in writing saying there were performance problems with Huffman, and there were no documents in Huffman's personnel file supporting a decision to terminate him.
Larry Zucker, executive director of the Titan Athletic Foundation, also testified Tuesday that he was aware of a decision not to renew Huffman's contract in the fall of 1990 and that the move was part of a dual decision to drop the sport and the coach "for humanistic reasons." Athletic department officials have said they thought it would be easier for him to get another job that way.
Under cross-examination, Zucker said Shumard never cited poor performance as a reason for firing Huffman.
"Performance issues weren't raised until after the (gender-equity) suit was filed," Zucker said.
Huffman's attorneys contend that only when it became apparent in the spring of 1992 that Huffman would file a wrongful-termination suit did school administrators begin looking for reasons from the fall of 1991 that would justify the firing.