U wins appeal

Brian Close

Former University women’s gymnastics coach Katalin Deli lost her $675,000 award from her case against the school when the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned her 1997 victory Tuesday.
But Deli’s battle with the University, which has dragged through the courts since 1992 via several lawsuits and appeals, is still not over. Deli will appeal the recent decision to the state Supreme Court.
“The court, in effect, says that even though Mrs. Deli was wronged, she can’t do a damn thing about it, which I don’t think is justice,” said Ron Meshbesher, Deli’s lawyer.
The issue erupted in 1992 when University officials fired Deli, then gymnastics coach, and her husband Gabor Deli, an assistant coach, after athletes saw a tape of the couple having sex. The couple filmed the act with University equipment while on a team trip. The act appeared on a tape following a recorded gymnastics meet.
Officials cited violations of contract and policy provisions separate from the videotape incident, as well as dishonesty and insubordination as reasons for Deli’s release.
Deli founded the women’s gymnastics program in 1973 and worked as coach until 1992. Gabor Deli worked as an assistant coach for 15 years.
Katalin Deli sued the University in 1992, claiming she only turned over the videotape to Women’s Athletics Director Chris Voelz after Voelz promised she wouldn’t watch it. Voelz and the University maintain they made no such promise.
In March 1997, a jury awarded Deli $675,000 in emotional distress damages, saying Voelz did in fact break her promise.
The University immediately appealed the ruling. Tuesday’s decision stated that emotional damages were not allowed in this breach of promise claim.
In addition, the court stated in its ruling, “even assuming emotional distress damages were appropriate in this case, Deli failed to offer any medical testimony regarding her alleged emotional distress.”
The judges in the case would not comment, citing ethical rules which require the decision to stand alone, without comment.
The Delis have a long history with the courts. In addition to the current suit, the Delis brought a suit claiming the University violated the Data Practices Act because Voelz discussed proceedings of the Delis’ performance reviews with local media.
That suit was eventually dismissed after appeals, as was another suit in which the Delis claimed the University discriminated against them in their pay.
University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said the Delis brought more than 40 different claims against the school. Rotenberg added that the courts have consistently upheld the University’s actions.
He also said the decision affirmed Voelz’ decision to review allegations made by concerned parents of the women who saw the tape.
“The court has finally said, ‘You don’t get almost $700,000 from the University just because you were told to turn over evidence in a proper investigation being conducted by University officials,'” Rotenberg said.
John Gilmore, who also represented Deli, said there were no prior cases specifically supporting the decision. But Rotenberg said it “clarified” current law.
“We will appeal to the Supreme Court because we think they should have the final word on when a new law is articulated in this state,” Gilmore said.
When appealed, the Minnesota Supreme Court will then decide whether to review the case.
— Staff Reporter Jim Martyka contributed to this story.