Tuesday, January 15, 2008

UNC Settles Sexual Harassment Case Involving Women's Soccer Coach

Melissa Jennings, former UNC soccer player, will receive $385,000 to drop her lawsuit against the university alleging sexual harassment by coach Anson Dorrance. A federal district court had initially dismissed her case saying the sexually-charged atmosphere Dorrance created for his players was not actionable under Title IX. But last year, the 4th Circuit acting en banc reversed the district court decision and reinstated the case, paving the way for trial that was later scheduled for this April. But, as Kris recently predicted, rather than appear in court, the parties agreed to a settlement. Under its terms, Jennings will receive the forementioned $385,000, Dorrance has apologized to Jennings and his former players for his admitted misconduct, and UNC will conduct a comprehensive review of all of its sexual harassment policies.

According to the Charlotte Observer, by settling UNC avoids "a bruising public trial that could have further hurt its reputation" and that "some had predicted... would set important precedents about the relationship between coaches and players." But I think the important precedent-setting work was already accomplished by the 4th Circuit's decision, which confirms that it is illegal under Title IX for universities to ignore sexually hostile environments created by their coaches. I also think that Dorrance's admission that leading his players in group discussions about their sexual activities and relationships with men was "inappropriate and unacceptable" goes a long way to vindicating Jennings's claims. It is unfortunate, however, that a coach can admit such egregious conduct and still get paid to coach college athletes.