Wednesday, October 17, 2012

University of Tennessee Defends Title IX Lawsuits by Women's Sports Employees

In recent weeks, the University of Tennessee has been sued twice by employees or former employees in athletics, who allege counts of sex discrimination and retaliation by a university with one of the strongest reputation for success in women's sports.

On September 27, Debbie Jennings, long-time sports information director, sued the university over various alleged instances of discrimination and retaliation.  Receiving the most attention in the media has been Jennings's claim that she was ousted from her position in retaliation for her opposition to the Athletic Director's decision to replace Pat Summitt as head coach of women's basketball, which Jennings viewed as an act of discrimination.  The lawsuit made waves the following week when she amended her complaint to include an affidavit from Summit that corroborated Jennings's claims that it was Athletic Director Dave Hart's decision that Summitt would no longer be coaching and that Summit was "upset" and "hurt" by his decision, though Summitt later apparently renounced her claim that she had been forced out.  Separately, however, Jennings's complaint also alleges that Hart discriminated against female employees in the recent merger of men's and women's athletic departments, letting go 12 women and 3 men as part of consolidation of jobs.  The combined athletic department's executive staff now has 7 men and 1 woman; while its senior administrative staff has 13 men and 2 women. 

A second lawsuit was recently filed by two employees and one former employee of the women's athletic department: Jenny Moshak, head athletic trainer; Heather Mason, strength and conditioning coach; and Collin Schlosser, former strength and conditioning coach (one of the three men let go in the merger). All allege that they were paid less than their counterpart employees in the men's athletic department, and they they were subject to retaliation for complaining internally about pay discrimination complaint (the university's rejection of which we blogged about last year).  In particular, Moshak claims that after the internal complaint, she was demoted and foreclosed from the opportunity to apply for the head trainer position in the merged department. 

Given the high profile nature of Tennessee women's sports, I predict this litigation will call much attention to the problem of persistent employment discrimination in college athletic departments.