Southern settles lawsuits, avoids potentially costly legal fights

The Southern University Board of Supervisors avoided two potentially costly legal fights Friday when board members agreed to settle two outstanding lawsuits filed by former employees.

The board agreed to pay former Athletic Director Greg LaFleur about $150,000 to settle his breach of contract lawsuit that claimed the university was too quick to fire him after his 2011 arrest in Houston for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute. It took a Houston jury 34 minutes to find LaFleur not guilty of the charge during the 2012 trial.

The settlement represents roughly half of the money Southern would have paid him if he’d been allowed to fulfill the full terms of his contract.

In the other settlement, Southern board members agreed to rehire a former employee who claimed he’d been wrongfully terminated five years ago for complaining on behalf of other employees who were being sexually harassed.

Southern Board Chairwoman Bridget Dinvaut said both settlements are in the best interest of the university and declined further comment.

LaFleur was attending the 2011 NCAA men’s Final Four in Houston, scouting candidates for Southern’s then-vacant men’s basketball coaching job when he was approached by the female undercover officer.

In the criminal complaint, he was accused of soliciting a person to engage in “sexual intercourse for hire.” LaFleur denied the allegations from the outset.

After his acquittal, LaFleur said he was leaving a concert on the night of April 3, 2011, and headed to a restaurant when the woman approached him and “went into her spiel.” He said the woman solicited him but nothing happened.

“That’s why I was found not guilty,” he said at the time.

His lawyer, Jed Silverman added that “no money changed hands; nobody went anywhere to have sex.”

LaFleur, a former LSU tight end who played for three NFL teams between 1981 and 1986, sued Southern, demanding the university pay him the remainder of his $300,000 contract. Southern defended LaFleur’s firing at the time, by saying his arrest stigmatized the university’s athletic programs and made him unable to carry out basic requirements of his job such as recruiting and fundraising.

Prior to Friday’s settlement, the case was set to be heard in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge on Jan. 22.

Southern’s other settlement agreed upon Friday resolves the 2009 firing of Cedric Upshaw, who worked as director of external affairs for both the university’s system office and the fundraising foundation.

The board agreed to rehire Upshaw as the Southern System’s Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, a $60,000-a-year position. His previous job with the university paid him $84,500 a year.

Upshaw sued the Southern board in 2010, claiming he was fired because he alerted his superiors that two former board members were sexually harassing some of his fellow employees. The complaints were part of a long-running dispute between former Southern President Ralph Slaughter and former board Chairman Johnny Anderson.

Upshaw also alleged that he lost his job with Southern’s foundation because he complained that a board member had not paid more than $100,000 for several years of rental fees on football suites.

Southern has argued that Upshaw was fired as part of an overall restructuring in 2009, during which roughly 20 people were let go.