Feb 19, 2020

Johnson-Klein has day in court

Two weeks into her trial, Stacy Johnson-Klein finally took the witness stand Wednesday.

She accused top university athletic officials of sexual harassment, the university of preferential treatment for men’s sports over women’s sports and an all-out effort on the part of university officials to get rid of her when she dared to speak up about gender equity issues.

For most of the past two weeks, Fresno State has laid out its case against Johnson-Klein, prominently featuring testimony from her former athletic supervisor and, just this week, one of her former players.

University officials have painted a picture of misconduct on Johnson-Klein’s part that harmed her players and lowered their morale. They have also accused her of unauthorized spending of funds during team trips and wearing inappropriate attire to games and other public settings.

Johnson-Klein’s rocky tenure as women’s basketball head coach lasted three years, from 2002 until she was fired in March 2005. She filed a lawsuit against Fresno State in August 2005 for sexual discrimination.

The former basketball stand-out from Oklahoma was hired, in part, to turn the women’s basketball program around from a disappointing season the previous year, and to improve the team’s public presence and marketing prowess.

By many accounts, Johnson-Klein delivered on those goals. The women’s basketball team won 21 games her first year as coach and made the postseason for the first time in more than a decade. Fresno State continued to have winning seasons during her last years as coach.

She also undertook a recruitment program more vigorous than what was done in past years, which drew players from many areas of the country and oversaw a sharp increase in public attendance at women’s basketball games.

But, allegedly, all was not well with the new coach’s relationship with athletics management.

Johnson-Klein’s accusation of sexual harassment against the university was two-fold. For one, she accused former university athletic director Scott Johnson of making sexual advances on her in a car and in her office.

Johnson denied those claims in testimony before the court last week. Johnson, who also had a controversial yet accomplished tenure at Fresno State, retired in February 2005. Fresno State President John D. Welty said in his previous testimony that hiring Johnson was a mistake.

The other point of contention regarding sexual harassment made by Johnson-Klein was what she described as an irrational, obsessive focus on the types of clothes she wore and how they looked on her body as mentioned to her by Randy Welniak, former athletic director of external operations and Johnson-Klein’s supervisor. In his earlier testimony, Welniak said his concerns about Johnson-Klein’s appearance were shared by Welty and other university officials.

Welniak became increasingly critical about her dress, complaining of too much cleavage on at least one occasion, Johnson-Klein said.

Johnson-Klein termed these sexually-tinged exchanges with Welniak as harassment.

“I went ballistic; I yelled at him,” Johnson-Klein said regarding one such exchange.

Johnson-Klein also complained that her program was perpetually understaffed, in contrast to what she saw with the men’s basketball program. She said the university was slow to hire assistant coaches to fill some open positions. She said she could have used help from assistant coaches while recruiting during the summer early in her career at Fresno State.

Indeed, numerous e-mails and memos were shown for the jury indicating that Johnson-Klein had asked, even pleaded, for additional needed resources and the right of her program to be treated on an equal financial footing with the men’s basketball program.

The university suspended Johnson-Klein on Feb. 9, 2005 and fired her several weeks later, claiming multiple violations of university policy through a long period of time.

Besides alleging expense improprieties on the university’s account that Johnson-Klein incurred during team trips, the university’s main case against the former coach involves the treatment of her players.

Former Bulldogs basketball player Aritta Lane, a co-captain during the 2004-05 season, testified Monday that she and the other players were enthusiastic about playing for Johnson-Klein during the first couple seasons of her tenure.

That relationship suddenly turned for the worse during the 2004-05 season. Lane said Johnson-Klein became verbally abusive, telling players after a road victory that they weren’t good enough and displaying other bouts of irrational behavior.

Lane also said that Johnson-Klein offered her an unidentified pill when Lane once complained of menstrual cramps, which she rejected.

In testimony Wednesday, Johnson-Klein talked about another episode involving pills. During her last year with the team, Johnson-Klein said she asked sophomore guard Chantella Perera for some Vicodin that Perera had, because Johnson-Klein claimed she was out of painkillers. Perera gave her a small bottle partly filled with painkillers, Johnson-Klein said.

Johnson-Klein did not ask for medication from her players again, she said, and got her own painkiller prescription soon after that incident. She said she regretted asking for the pills from her player, saying she “made a really poor decision.”

Johnson-Klein said she hurt her shoulder and chest in a car accident in 2004, the pain from which she tried to alleviate by seeing a chiropractor and taking painkillers.

On Feb. 7, 2005, Welniak and associate athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois met with Johnson-Klein’s players and heard what they had to say about their coach, according to Welniak.

Lane testified that she and her teammates were very upset with Johnson-Klein and, at that meeting, said they wanted her fired.

The concerns for the team’s morale and safety that the administrators took from the meeting was the last nail in the coffin for Johnson-Klein, according to Welniak, and led to her firing less than a month later.

The trial is set to resume again on Monday, and may last up to six weeks. Trial sessions, held at the Fresno County Superior Court in downtown Fresno, are open to the public.

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