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South Florida details its stand

Published Sep. 10, 2005

Attorneys for the University of South Florida said despite a judge's ruling, the university did have legal grounds to fire former women's basketball coach Jerry Ann Winters and it stands behind that decision.

In a 21-page document filed Wednesday, USF attorneys issued their response to a finding by administrative law judge William Quattlebaum that Winters was wrongfully dismissed last year.

Quattlebaum ruled July 2 that Winters should be reinstated and given back pay because South Florida officials did not prove she retaliated against point guard Dione Smith for Smith's involvement in a racial discrimination investigation when Winters kicked her off the team.

In their written exception to the judge's ruling, USF attorneys said Winters was not fired solely for retaliation against Smith.

Instead, the exception order said, Winters, 52, was fired for breach of contract _ which included lying to a university Equal Opportunity Affairs investigator, involving herself in an on-going investigation of racial allegations against her, and retaliation.

USF attorneys said Quattlebaum was not familiar with Winters' contract and EOA procedures to render a correct ruling . South Florida attorneys allege Winters falsified documents during the EOA investigation, which violated policy and provided USF with the right to terminate her. Fraud, dishonesty and retaliation are grounds for dismissal in Winters' contract, the exception order said.

Winters' attorney, Robert F. McKee, said Thursday he will file a reply to USF's written exception as early as today.

"We didn't file an exception (on the original verdict) because we loved it," McKee said.

In his ruling, Quattlebaum also said a central issue was whether Camille Blake, the EOA administrator who investigated the retaliation grievance against Winters, should have taken sworn complaints.

Quattlebaum said Blake's notes of the interviews did not constitute "competent evidence" because it was part of unsworn testimony.

University and state rules don't require sworn testimony in EOA cases and the university said it is a "technicality."

In its response, USF said Blake's testimony and contents of her report of statements by Winters are "admissions by Winters, not hearsay."

It also points out neither Winters, nor her attorney, objected to any of the testimony given by Blake about statements attributed to Winters.

"In the absence of an objection, hearsay is admissible for all purposes and considerations in a trial," the response says.

Quattlebaum's role in the case ended with his ruling; the decision rests with USF.

USF attorneys declined comment Thursday, referring the matter to their public relations office. Interim media relations director Michael Reich said USF has 90 days to file a final order . Winters will have 30 days to appeal that final order.

"Where we are right now is we are considering all of our options," Reich said.

USF president Judy Genshaft has said she will not comply with the judge's recommendation.

If that's the case, McKee said, he will take the case to a higher court.

"If that final order does not include reinstatement and back pay as was suggested by the judge's final order, we will appeal (to the district court of appeals)," McKee said.