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CSU, Huffman Get Out-of-Court Deal : Jurisprudence: The system agrees to pay former Titan volleyball coach $1.35 million plus legal fees in wrongful termination case.

July 27, 1994|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 2 1/2-year legal battle between former Cal State Fullerton volleyball Coach Jim Huffman and the Cal State University system ended Tuesday when attorneys reached an out-of-court settlement of the coach's wrongful-termination case.

The CSU system has agreed to pay Huffman $1.35 million and an additional $300,000 in attorney fees--the exact amounts a Superior Court jury and judge ordered the system to pay Huffman last winter. In exchange for dropping its appeal of the Feb. 8 verdict, the CSU system will not have to pay any interest on the award, which had been accruing at a rate of 10%.

The two sides have confirmed the agreement by letter, and Huffman is expected to sign formal settlement papers today, after which the CSU system will have 30 days to pay the former coach. The money will come out of its general fund.

"I don't want to sound overconfident, but we didn't think they would win an appeal," said Huffman, who said he was unfairly fired after he fought and blocked Fullerton's effort to drop the women's volleyball program in 1992.

"It's nice to know this won't drag into next year. I'm definitely ready to move on. It's going to be nice not being in the paper every other week."

The settlement brings to $2.6 million the amount that the San Francisco firm of Boyd, Huffman & Williams has won for clients in six cases against the CSU system in the last 2 1/2 years.

The firm netted $375,000 in San Diego State volleyball Coach Rudy Suwara's wrongful-termination suit, $328,000 in San Jose State administrator Mary Zimmerman's sex-discrimination and wrongful-termination suit, $200,000 in attorneys fees for California National Organization for Women cases against CSU and San Jose State, and $108,000 in attorney fees in the Fullerton volleyball team's sex-discrimination case.

"We'll see if CSU has learned a lesson worth $2.6 million," said attorney Jared Huffman, Jim's brother. "I think if they were a little more open-minded and had better leadership, that figure would have been a lot lower and a lot of careers would still be intact."

The CSU system hired the San Francisco firm of Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold to handle the appeal in the Huffman case, but attorney Fred Baker deferred comments to the CSU system office.

"They weighed the risks, and looking at 10% interest and (additional) attorneys fees, they decided it was fiscally prudent to settle it now," said CSU spokeswoman Colleen Bentley-Adler. "It was time to wrap this up. . . . We would have preferred winning the case, but this allows the campus to get along with its program and look ahead, not back."

Jim Huffman, who had a 25-80 record in three years as Titan coach, was fired in March, 1992, one working day after a judge signed a preliminary injunction blocking the school's January, 1992, attempt to drop volleyball.

The university contended it acted properly when it fired Huffman. But Huffman's attorneys successfully argued during a three-week trial last winter that the coach was fired in retaliation for his sex-discrimination lawsuit that saved women's volleyball, forced changes in the school's athletic policies and embarrassed the school.

Huffman, who works at an Anaheim sports apparel company, was awarded $350,366 in projected financial losses and $1 million in non-economic damages. Two Fullerton administrators, including former Athletic Director Bill Shumard, were ordered to pay a total of $4,500 in punitive damages.

According to Huffman's attorneys, CSU officials turned down a settlement offer of $350,000 last November, just two months before the trial.

"If you look at it objectively, this was a case they had to settle," Jared Huffman said. "They sized it up and did the proper thing."

Jim Huffman, 35, said he would like to return to Division I college coaching, "but I'll have to sit back for a couple years to let this really die down before I test the waters again," he said. "I'll probably have to start off again as an assistant. I'll be almost 40, an assistant . . . it's not real inspiring, is it?"

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