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Judge strengthens former athletic director Kortne Gosha's lawsuit against FAMU

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by former Florida A&M University athletic director Kortne Gosha alleging he was retaliated against and forced to resign after reporting misconduct at the university.

During a hearing last week, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle granted a motion by the university for summary judgment on Gosha's claims. In a written order released Tuesday, Hinkle said the lawsuits had been dismissed, meaning they could not be brought again.

On April 20, 2022, FAMU President Larry Robinson met with Gosha and gave him the option to resign immediately or be fired, per Hinkle's order. Gosha chose to resign and signed a severance agreement that gave him three months' salary and accrued vacation totaling nearly $100,000, as well as an additional $50,000 for match guarantees and expenses during his tenure.

The agreement expressly prohibited Gosha, who served as athletic director for more than two years, from asserting legal claims against the university. However, he claimed he signed it under duress, making it invalid.

In his order, Hinkle said there is a real dispute as to whether Gosha signed the resignation agreement involuntarily or under duress. But he said it was “still valid now” because Gosha had accepted payments under that agreement. The former athletic director received the payout before suing the FAMU Board of Trustees in February 2023.

Hinkle wrote that the file shows “indisputably” that Robinson decided to terminate Gosha's employment and fire him if he did not resign.

“There is no evidence in the file that gender, disability or whistleblowing had anything to do with it,” Hinkle said. “Instead, the files prove, again indisputably, that Dr. Robinson made the decision for three legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-oppressive reasons, each of which would alone be sufficient to refute Mr. Gosha's allegations.”

According to the order, the reasons were three things: a proposal to stream FAMU sporting events on the Urban Edge Network, the placement of FAMU signage on a NASCAR vehicle and an attempt to hire a women's track and field coach.

“Mr. Gosha's mishandling of these matters included his failure to keep Dr. Robinson informed and to obtain his consent before proceeding as far as he did,” Hinkle wrote.

Hinkle added that Gosha has provided no evidence that he was fired or forced to resign due to discrimination or retaliation. Rather, he wrote, his downfall occurred for the three “legitimate” reasons.

Neither FAMU nor Gosha, contacted by the Tallahassee Democrat on Wednesday, commented. Gosha's attorney, Marie Mattox of Tallahassee, could not immediately be reached for comment.

FAMU filed another motion for summary judgment, requesting that Gosha be required to return payments if the court found the employment contract void or invalid. The university also asked to reserve for review whether Gosha should be required to pay attorney fees. However, those issues were resolved in a final round of mediation, according to a court filing Wednesday.

“The parties … submitted their concerns to mediation on May 1, 2024,” wrote attorney and certified mediator Jason O'Steen. “All problems have been resolved.”

A related lawsuit against FAMU, filed in December 2022 by former assistant athletics director Michael Johnson, whom Gosha hired in 2020, is still pending in federal court. Johnson claimed he was wrongfully fired after reporting misdeeds in the athletics department. A hearing on FAMU's motion for summary judgment in the Johnson case will be held May 6 before U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor.

Before filing the lawsuit, Johnson alleged in an interview with the Tallahassee Democrat that former Rep. Ramon Alexander groped him and subjected him to unwanted sexual advances, including sexually charged text messages and videos of himself fondling himself. The ensuing scandal prompted Alexander, who was in the race for Democratic leadership in the House, to abandon his campaign for a fourth term in 2022.

Tallahassee attorneys Robert Sniffen, Diana Shumans and Kristen Diot of the law firm Sniffen & Spellman represented FAMU in the Gosha lawsuit.

Contact Jeff Burlew at [email protected] or 850-599-2180.

Anna Harden

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