Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against Florida A&M by former athletic director Kortne Gosha

A federal judge threw out 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 claims were dismissed with prejudice, meaning they can’t be brought up again.

On April 20, 2022, FAMU President Larry Robinson met with Gosha and gave him the option of resigning on the spot or being terminated, according to Hinkle’s order. Gosha opted to step down, signing a severance agreement that gave him three months pay and accrued leave totaling nearly $100,000 and another $50,000 for game guarantees and out-of-pocket expenses during his tenure.

Former FAMU athletics director Kortne Gosha
Former FAMU athletics director Kortne Gosha

The agreement explicitly barred Gosha, who had served as athletic director for more than two years, from pursuing legal claims against the university. However, he claimed that he signed it under duress, rendering it invalid.

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

Hinkle wrote that the record establishes “beyond genuine dispute” that Robinson decided to end Gosha’s employment and to terminate him if he didn’t resign.

“The record includes no evidence that gender, disability or whistleblowing had anything to do with it,” Hinkle said. “Instead, the record establishes, again beyond genuine dispute, that Dr. Robinson made the decision for three legitimate, nondiscriminatory, non-retaliatory reasons, any one of which would be sufficient standing alone to defeat Mr. Gosha’s claims.”

The reasons, according to the order, involved three matters: 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 coach.

“Mr. Gosha’s mishandling of those matters included a failure to keep Dr. Robinson advised and to obtain his approval before moving forward as far as was done,” Hinkle wrote.

Hinkle added that Gosha didn’t present evidence showing he was terminated or forced to resign based on discrimination or retaliation. Rather, he wrote, his ouster was for the three “legitimate” reasons.

Gosha, contacted Wednesday by the Tallahassee Democrat, had no comment. His attorney, Marie Mattox of Tallahassee, could not be reached immediately for comment.

FAMU filed another motion for summary judgment asking that if the court finds the employment agreement void or invalid that Gosha be required to return the money that was paid to him. Hinkle said he would rule on that separately.

FAMU declined to comment on the latest development, saying it can't comment on matters that are in active litigation.

A related lawsuit against FAMU, filed in December 2022 by former associate athletics director Michael Johnson, whom Gosha hired in 2020, is still pending in federal court. Johnson alleged he was wrongfully terminated after reporting misdeeds in the athletics department. A hearing on a FAMU motion for summary judgment in the Johnson case is set for May 6 before U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor.

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

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

Contact Jeff Burlew at jburlew@tallahassee.com or 850-599-2180.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Judge spikes lawsuit against FAMU by ex-athletic director Kortne Gosha