Court Case: Handler v. Nova Southeastern University

Case History

Robyn Handler, former head softball coach at Nova Southeastern University (NSU), sued the institution for pay inequity and retaliation.

Handler claims that she was paid less than similarly situated male coaches in the athletic department, though she had more experience and success as a collegiate head coach. She states that retaliation began after she filed complaints in spring 2001 with both the Office of Civil Rights and the EEOC against NSU on behalf of the women’s softball program. Her job evaluations from 1995 to 2000 were consistently above average. Handler’s most recent evaluation prior to the complaints was completed in April 2000, at which time her supervisor gave her an overall rating of “consistently exceeds expectations.” Of note is Handler’s exceptional coaching record in comparison to other coaches at NSU and nationally: In the eight years she was the head softball coach at NSU, her teams consistently won conference titles and regional titles and made four consecutive appearances in NAIA National tournaments. Handler herself was named conference coach of the year five times and regional coach of the year four times.

In spring 2001, following the filing of her complaints with the OCR and EEOC, her evaluation declined significantly. Following another poor evaluation in spring 2002, Handler was terminated.

In July 2002, NSU filed a cross-complaint against Handler, requesting injunctive relief for conversion, negligence, intentional interference with a business relationship, civil theft, and breach of fiduciary duty. NSU claims that following her termination, Handler removed confidential materials from NSU. Handler asserts all documents and property were returned prior to the filing of this complaint. A federal district court ultimately dismissed the cross-complaint in 2003.

Handler cited Corey Johnson, former Athletic Director at NSU, as the person primarily responsible for the pay inequity within the athletic department. Prior to coming to NSU, Johnson was the athletic director at Colorado State University, where he cut the women’s softball program and was subsequently sued. Handler noted that after his departure from NSU in 2001, Johnson became the deputy athletic director at the University of South Florida; he resigned one year later amidst sexual harassment allegations that were filed against him.

Handler filed her original complaint in Florida state court in May 2001. In 2002, she amended her complaint to include retaliation as a cause of action. In fall 2003, Handler reached a confidential settlement with NSU.

Key Case Issues

Pay inequity, retaliation