Jury says former gym coach should get $675,000 damages

Jodi Compton

Former University gymnastics coach Katalin Deli finally won a suit against the University when a jury awarded her $675,000 over what they agreed was a broken promise.
Deli said that Chris Voelz, the women’s athletic director, promised not to view a videotape that showed Deli and her husband having sex. Deli said that Voelz obtained the tape by making such a guarantee.
Voelz and the University maintained that no such promise was made, casting it at the trial as a misunderstanding by Deli. The jury found otherwise.
Head University attorney Mark Rotenberg said in a prepared statement that the verdict “fails to recognize the tough, necessary decisions that were made to investigate serious allegations of sexual misconduct.” He said the University will appeal.
In 1992, Deli and her husband, Gabor, were fired from their positions coaching the women’s gymnastics team after their athletes accidentally viewed the videotape. The University cited contract and University policy violations along with the mishandling of the tape as the reasons.
Deli was represented by Ron Meshbesher at trial. Robert Oliphant, an attorney and professor at William Mitchell College of Law, handled much of the pre-trial work. Both lawyers took on the case without a retainer or hourly fees.
“I felt it was the right thing to do,” said Meshbesher. “The most intimate part of a married couple’s life became a document in the public arena. I think anybody with any sensitivity can imagine the emotional impact on the couple involved, not knowing who was going to see it next.”
He said that he suggested $1 million would be “a fair amount” to recompense Deli.
It is common for attorneys to take a percentage of an award in lieu of hourly fees; Meshbesher said that no agreement had been approved yet to compensate the several lawyers who had worked on the case. Asked how much of Deli’s $675,000 he was asking, Meshbesher said, “That’s between me and my client.”
The trial began on March 12 and went to the jury on March 19. The jury deliberated for a day before returning their verdict.
Deli founded the women’s gymnastics program at the University in 1973. Her husband was an assistant coach for 15 years. Currently, they own and operate a gymnastics academy in Plymouth.
Since losing their jobs, the Delis have been in difficult financial straits, filing for chapter 13 bankruptcy in 1994. Meshbesher said they currently owe creditors $90,000.
They have also filed a number of suits against their former employer — seven, by the University’s count. Until the March 21 jury decision, none of the suits were successful. Rotenberg estimated that the school has spent “tens of thousands of dollars in attorney-time” fighting their claims.
Deli declined to comment on her victory.