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University of Florida Hit With $220K Verdict at Trial Over Prof's Claim School Breached Secret Settlement Terms

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Dec 20, 2017 5:31:52 PM

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Gainesville, FL—A University of Florida law professor won more than $220,000 this month at trial over claims the school breached secret terms of a settlement agreement. Tritt v. University of Florida, 2016-CA-002369. 

Jurors in the state’s Eighth Circuit Court, in Alachua County, awarded Lee-Ford Tritt, a professor at UF’s Levin College of Law, the sum after finding the school had failed to live up to payment terms they found were part of an agreement to settle Tritt’s earlier discrimination claim against the school.

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Tritt, a five-time Professor of the Year at UF, contends the school had not wanted payment terms publicly available as part of an agreement to settle his discrimination suit, so it secretly agreed to allow him to keep money he earned at Boston University while taking a sabbatical from UF.

However, when Boston University paid the money to UF directly, Tritt claims UF backed out of the agreement because it was leery of the paper trail that would be created and questions that would arise if the school subsequently transferred the funds to him.

The $220,222.17 award was $120,000 more than Tritt’s attorney, Searcy Denney’s Matthew Schwencke, requested in closing arguments.

Read why Matthew Schwencke believes the jury awarded more than he requested, in CVN Essentials.

The three-day trial focused on whether the school had promised to allow Tritt to keep the BU money, with UF denying any secret settlement terms existed. During closing arguments, Greenberg Traurig’s Richard McCrea told jurors that the alleged, secret agreement was inconsistent with the settlement’s published terms. McCrea noted the written settlement provided Tritt could take a sabbatical any time within three semesters. “If the deal was, we’re going to get you double payment in the Fall of 2015 at Boston University, why would there be any need to give him three semesters to take the extra sabbatical?” McCrea said. “This conspiracy theory is riddled, riddled, with contradictions and inconsistencies.”

But Schwencke told jurors the weight of evidence, including email from law school administration trying to devise a way to divert the funds to Tritt once they were paid to UF, proved a secret agreement existed. Additionally, Schwencke said common sense showed UF and Tritt had agreed for him to keep the Boston University money. “Why would Professor Tritt choose to take a sabbatical, and go up to Boston University to work? It doesn’t make any sense,” Schwencke said, noting a sabbatical is typically akin to a vacation. “It doesn’t make any sense unless the purpose behind the sabbatical clause in the agreement was to allow him to remain an employee at UF, maintain his salary, and then receive the compensation from Boston University. That’s what makes sense in this case.”

After the trial, Schwencke told CVN he believed Tritt’s credibility, contrasted with that of the UF administration, carried the verdict. “Professor Tritt is an honest, straightforward man. And he came across credibly because he was [credible],” Schwencke said. “You have one party who comes across credibly and the documents to support what they’re saying, and another party who does not.”

“Professor Tritt just didn’t deserve for any of this to happen to him. For him having to sue for a breach of a settlement agreement, it was just ridiculous, especially with the overwhelming weight of evidence,” Schwencke added. “You kind of shake your head at the school and think ‘What were you doing?’”

A spokesperson for UF declined to comment, citing the pendency of the litigation.

Email Arlin Crisco at acrisco@cvn.com

Related Information

Lee-Ford Tritt is represented by Searcy Denney’s Matthew Schwencke and Bernard O’Donnell.

The University of Florida is represented by Greenberg Traurig’s Richard McCrea.

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Topics: Tritt v. University of Florida, Florida, Contract