Fired Stanford Coach Sues for Golden Parachute

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – The former men’s basketball coach at Stanford University says the school reneged on its promise to pay him $2.3 million if he released claims related to his ouster and didn’t speak ill of the school or its decision to fire him.

Johnny Dawkins Jr. says in a 12-page complaint filed April 17 in Santa Clara Superior Court that his original contract with the school stipulated that if he was fired without cause, he would receive his base salary of just over $1 million plus $50,000 for each remaining year of his contract, offset by the difference between his pay at Stanford and his salary from any new coaching job.

Dawkins had two years remaining on his contract when Stanford fired him, ostensibly for finishing the season at .500. He says the school approached him to hammer out a deal by which he agreed to release any claims against Stanford and to not make any public statements about his firing without university consent.

A week after Stanford announced Dawkins’ ouster in March 2016, Dawkins says the university sent its top lawyer to his house with the agreement. In it, Stanford agreed to pay Dawkins a lump sum of $2,329,166 by April 14, 2016, and surrender its “mitigation rights” to deduct the amount of his future earnings from the payment.

After Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir personally assured Dawkins of these terms, Dawkins says he signed the agreement and took a head coaching job at the University of Central Florida.

Dawkins says the day after signing the agreement, Stanford’s lawyer contacted Dawkins to propose deducting the amount of Dawkins’ new salary from what the university owed him. When Dawkins, through his lawyer, insisted the school abide by the terms of the release agreement, Stanford’s lawyer said the school was entitled to an offset against the amount they had agreed to pay.

In October 2016, Dawkins invoked an arbitration clause – which Stanford had added to the agreement. But the school refused to submit to arbitration because it said the release agreement “was not signed by Stanford,” according to the complaint.

Stanford spokesman Ernest Miranda said in a statement that the school hadn’t seen Dawkins’ complaint, but that it “will be vigorously defending the lawsuit.” Miranda’s statement offers a different account of the events following Dawkins’ firing.

The school says its lawyer contacted Dawkins’ lawyer on March 23, 2016, to confirm Dawkins had taken a position in Florida, and asked how much he would make there so Stanford “would know what, if anything, to pay Dawkins under the agreement.” That agreement, the school says, is Dawkins’ original contract with the mitigation rights.

Stanford’s statement never mentions the release agreement on which Dawkins’ lawsuit is based.

According to the school, Dawkins and his lawyer refused to disclose his Florida salary, despite repeated requests, until last month. Stanford said it then demanded a copy of Dawkins’ contract with Central Florida and an explanation of why his salary for the first two years there is a fraction of what it will be over the following four years.

In its statement, Stanford questions whether Dawkins’ contract with Central Florida was negotiated in good faith, since the first two years at lower pay correspond to the remaining two years of Dawkins’ original contract with Stanford – obliging Stanford to pay the difference between the two salaries.

Dawkins’ claims include breach of contract, nonpayment of wages and promise without intention to perform.

In addition to the unpaid $2.3 million promised in the unacknowledged release agreement, Dawkins seeks punitive and exemplary damages of at least $5 million on claims of intentional misrepresentation and false promises meant to lure him into relinquishing his claims against the school and not criticizing its decision to fire him.

In 2017, the University of Central Florida went to the NIT semifinals for the first time. Stanford finished ninth in the Pacific-12 Conference for the second year in a row.

Dawkins is represented by Allen Ruby and Patrick Hammon of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Palo Alto. They did not return requests for comment before publication.


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