White Savannah State football coach settles discrimination suit

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Former Savannah State football coach Robby Wells received compensation of $350,000, which included $110,000 to his attorneys, to settle his discrimination lawsuit against the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia and SSU administrators.

 

The Savannah Morning News learned details of the agreement after issuing a freedom of information request for documents on the case.

Wells was suing the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia; former SSU President Earl Yarbrough; former SSU Vice President of Administration Claud Flythe; former SSU interim athletic director Marilynn Stacey-Suggs; and assistant athletic director Shed Dawson.

The parties released public statements of closure to the case Nov. 21 but gave no specifics.

Savannah State University and the Georgia Department of Administrative Service agreed to pay Wells $240,000 and his attorneys Schwartz Rollins LLC $110,000.

SSU and the Board of Regents do not consider the payment an admission to fault or liability.

“I think I can say on behalf of Savannah State, time moves forward not backward, and we’re moving forward,” said SSU attorney Joe Steffen.

John Millsaps of the Board of Regents responded to an email, saying, “At this time, we do not have any comment on this matter.”

SSU interim president Cheryl Dozier referred to a statement the school gave Nov. 21. Savannah State called Wells “the (school’s) most successful on-the-field coach in a decade” and absolved him and his staff of any blame for sanctions against the football program.

According to the final documents, Wells dropped his suit and, among other considerations, agreed to withdraw an application for employment as athletics director at Savannah State.

Parties of disagreement

Wells, a white football coach, was suing the historically black college after leaving his job on Jan. 28, 2010. At the time, he cited health and personal reasons. He later said the resignation was forced.

SSU hired Wells in December 2007 and the football team posted a 5-7 record for the 2008 season. The next year, his team went 2-8.

Besides Wells’ five-win 2008 season, the Tigers have not won more than two games in a football season since 1999.

But SSU administrators had issues with Wells throughout his two years there, ranging from lack of protocol to misuse of travel money.

Wells saw things differently. In the official documents, he provided 22 instances with school administrators that he claimed to be discriminatory, including situations involving his fiancee Nicole Miller, who is black.

Five white players Wells recruited for the 2010 season were no longer offered scholarships or places on the team after Wells left, he claimed. The players also filed a discrimination lawsuit in 2010.

SSU officials countered that Wells had not filed appropriate paperwork, and the players were not official recruits.

Only two weeks before the 2010 signing day (the first day high school athletes can sign scholarships with prospective schools), Wells took a trip to Las Vegas. In a Nov. 21, 2010 story in the Savannah Morning News, Flythe said Wells told him he was recruiting.

Not long after, Wells resigned.

Wells claimed emotional distress and he suffered from insomnia, loss of appetite, moodiness and withdrawal. Losing his job caused strife for others around him. Miller suffered a miscarriage, he claimed, and without employment, he also couldn’t care for his 77-year-old mother.

SSU has moved forward, but the football program continues to struggle. The Tigers won only one game under interim coach Julius Dixon in 2010 and one under first-year coach Steve Davenport this season.

 

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