Joined:Apr 28, 2008 http://heraldsun.southernheadlines.com/durham/4-1052567.cfm
Lacrosse slander ruling appealed
By Ray Gronberg : The Herald-Sungronberg@heraldsun.com
Dec 23, 2008
DURHAM -- Duke University has appealed a judge's ruling that allowed former men's lacrosse coach Mike Pressler to pursue a slander lawsuit against it and former school spokesman John Burness.
The appeal contends that Superior Court Judge Howard Manning erred in April when he held that a March 2007 settlement agreement nullified Pressler's contractual obligations to submit employment-related claims against the school to arbitration.
Duke's lawyers are asking the N.C. Court of Appeals to reverse Manning.
They argue that the U.S. Supreme Court has directed judges to interpret liberally the federal law that allows employers to force disputes with employees into arbitration.
The high court's justices have said that "any doubts" about whether a case should go into arbitration "should be resolved in favor of arbitration," even if there's a dispute about whether an employer has waived its rights.
Pressler's lawyers told both Manning and the state appeals court that the deal the two sides signed in 2007 unambiguously ended all obligations they had to each other under the coach's employment contract, including Duke's arbitration rights.
The settlement stems from Duke's decision to force Pressler out of his job in April 2006, at the height of the controversy that began after stripper Crystal Mangum falsely accused three members of the lacrosse team of rape.
Duke's brief noted that the 2007 settlement was no less than the third that campus officials and the former coach hammered out following his ouster.
Pressler accepted a financial settlement the day of his firing. Then two months later he and his lawyers secured from Duke a different deal that gave him all the pay the school had promised him in his three-year employment contract, plus a stipulation that the firing had been "without cause."
The phrase in this case means the school wasn't accusing him of wrongdoing.
The two sides returned to the bargaining table a third time, in the coach's telling this time to make it clear they were finished with each other. The resulting deal included a clause canceling all previous obligations under Pressler's employment contract.
It also said the two sides were to keep the terms confidential and avoid making disparaging or defamatory comments about each other.
Pressler contends that Burness turned around only days later and slandered him in interviews with The Associated Press and a New York City-area newspaper. Burness allegedly implied that Pressler hadn't controlled his team, and compared him unfavorably with his replacement, current lacrosse coach John Danowski.
Duke's filing with the Court of Appeals said case law has established that arbitration requirements can survive even the termination of an employment contract.
Duke filed the appeal in September. Court of Appeals cases in this state often take about a year to resolve.
A three-judge panel will review the case. If it hands down a split opinion, the losing side has an automatic right to seek another review, this time by the N.C. Supreme Court.
The loser can also go to the Supreme Court if the appeals judges are unanimous, but in that situation the higher court's justices have the discretion to turn down the case. A Supreme Court review also takes about a year.