Lawyer details Debby Jennings' departure from UT; legal action considered

Debby Jennings

Debby Jennings

Debby Jennings, who spent her career helping enhance the image of the University of Tennessee athletics, is considering legal action following her abrupt departure from the program she served for 35 years as the primary media contact for Lady Vols athletics.

Jennings, who is the only media relations director recently retired basketball coach Pat Summitt ever had, was the associate athletic director for media relations when UT announced her retirement last week.

Jennings’ attorney, David Burkhalter, said first-year UT athletic director Dave Hart offered his client the choice on May 15 to be fired for “insubordination,” resign or retire. The letter was obtained by the News Sentinel through a public records request.

Burkhalter said in a letter sent to UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek on May 18 that Jennings had been advised “to pursue a discrimination/retaliation case against UT,” although Jennings “has instructed me to see if this unfortunate matter can be resolved on an amicable basis.”

Cheek or a UT legal representative has been given until Monday to contact Burkhalter, or legal action would proceed.

Jennings said she was advised by her attorney not to comment on the matter. On her Facebook page, she thanked friends who had reached out to her regarding her “announced retirement.”

Jennings’ retirement was announced by UT in a three-paragraph email. She didn’t have much time to consider her options, according to the letter her attorney sent Cheek.

Jennings received an ultimatum from Hart at 1 p.m. that day and was told to give him her decision by 4:30 p.m., before he left on the on the Big Orange Caravan, or she would be terminated for alleged “insubordination,” Burkhalter said in the letter.

“She then returned to her office to find that while she was in this meeting her computer had been confiscated and you can understand how this made her feel as if she was being treated as a common criminal,” Burkhalter’s email read. “Later, she discovered that UT had deleted the majority of her saved email files.”

Burkhalter characterized the treatment as possible retaliation for Jennings’ complaints over the last two years about gender and age discrimination within the department.

“Her complaints, however, only resulted in increased hostility, harassment, curtailment of responsibilities, and other forms of retaliation by the men placed above her.”

Jennings, 57, was replaced by Eric Trainer, a younger male staff member. Her salary was $93,296 at the time, according to the university; Trainer’s salary was $66,300.

Jennings spent all of her 35 years at UT working closely with Summitt, who coached the Lady Vols for 38 seasons before she had to step down at the end of the 2011-12 season because of early onset dementia. When UT announced last month that Summitt was retiring as coach but would stay on with the program as head coach emeritus, Jennings was unaware.

She found out about it when a News Sentinel reporter called her to request player interviews in conjunction with the announcement.

Jennings’ longtime relationship with Summitt was emphasized in a letter Jennings sent Hart on Jan. 11. The letter was obtained by the News Sentinel through a public records request.

“I have not heard from you recently regarding the request you made to me in December that you decided I should retire at the end of the school year 2011-12, so it could be announced before the end of the just completed calendar year,” Jennings wrote. “You told me you had made this ‘decision’ because I was not in your ‘future plans’ and you ‘would be headed in a different direction.’

“To be honest, I was very hurt and shocked by your request and the decision that you had made, and I am still trying to process the communications. I did discuss your ‘request’ with Pat Summitt, and she was surprised and a little shocked and told me that I had her full support and that she didn’t want me to resign.

“Further, you obviously do not know me. As a woman of character, I would never voluntarily quit as long as Pat Summitt is associated with the Lady Vols basketball program. I would not abandon her.”

Jennings also wrote in the letter to Hart that she could not afford to retire early. She reminded him that she was a cancer survivor and “I desperately need to maintain my health insurance in the work environment for as long as possible.”

She also stated in the letter that she wondered if the request for her retirement was related to her past conversations with UT administrators Jimmy Stanton and Chris Fuller regarding “age and gender discrimination toward me and others in the University of Tennessee Athletic Department or a continuation of this pattern.”

Three other women’s athletic department employees filed a gender-discrimination complaint with UT in February of 2010. Jenny Moshak, associate athletic director for women’s sports medicine, Heather Mason, assistant athletic director for women’s strength and conditioning, and Colin Schlosser, associate director for women’s strength and conditioning, claimed they were not being properly compensated when compared to members of similar standing in the men’s athletic department.

After a 10-month investigation, UT’s Office of Equity and Diversity ruled that no gender discrimination occurred. UT resident Joe DiPietro denied their appeal last year.

Moshak, Mason and Schlosser have since taken their case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Bud Ford, former sports information director, has filed a claim against UT for breach of contract. Ford, who retired in December after 45 years at UT, filed his claim last month with the state Division of Claims Administration.

He is seeking $40,000 compensation for a one-year agreement to serve as athletic department historian after his retirement. The position was eliminated by Hart.

John Adams is a senior columnist. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns

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Comments » 122

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

WOW!!!! This is getting a bit ridiculous. 3/4 of the stories about UT are not good.

tenacjim#211887 writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

WOW!!!! This is getting a bit ridiculous. 3/4 of the stories about UT are not good.

Right? You hate to open this site for fear of what you may see next....

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to tenacjim#211887:

Right? You hate to open this site for fear of what you may see next....

It's being reported that administration confiscated her computer and deleted all of the e-mails. Many of which contained conversations between her and Hart.

FearlessFreep writes:

Someone help me out here - Tennessee is an 'at-will' state, correct? Which means the employer can fire anyone for any reason, good or bad, as long as it's not discriminatory or retaliatory.

Hart definitely needed to clean house, but he is also under obligation to do it properly and legally.

'Insubordination' is a pretty vague designation and incredibly difficult to defend against. Someone's not telling the truth, just not sure who . . .

keepitreal4vols writes:

This is what happens when you hire a bunch of moles from Alabama.

rocky_topper writes:

She was making too much money to be carrying around a clipboard for a coach. I like what Hart is doing. He is tackling all sports programs on The Hill, cutting the fat, and boosting revenues for the athletic department. This should have been done years ago. He hasn't targeted any one particular sport. They are all one program now and operate from the same athletic budget, and he is aggressively going after each and cutting and streamlining just as all corporations are doing.

The only women's program there that even barely breaks even is women's basketball. The men's athletics have carried the other sports for years and they are now going through a dismal period as well. It is just the nature of economics. Men's football cannot continue to carry every sport at Tennessee just because they want to keep assistants and familiar faces around. It is a business and is being run as such. All of the sports are being affected, and the past practices that we have seen within the athletics there will never be like they were. It has been frustrating for years for athletic ticket prices to be increased to the point of almost not being able to afford them by the common family just to prevent from going after these unnecessary expenses.

Unfortunately for women's sports, Hart is now in charge and their own is no longer protected. He has all sports to consider and operate within one budget to do so.

rocky_topper writes:

What we have now from the women's basketball program are Heather Mason, Jenny Moshak, and Debby Jennings all with a lawsuit against Tennessee just to try to protect their jobs and increase their benefits packages. Those are some great Lady Vol representatives right there who really care about the university.

skippy23 writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

It's being reported that administration confiscated her computer and deleted all of the e-mails. Many of which contained conversations between her and Hart.

they can delete them from her computer, but they are still on the email servers. they can be retrieved

volinlouisvilleky writes:

in response to aspenvol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

What the hell do you mean? If you mean what I think you mean then you bro are the definition of a tool!

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say not gonna have a winning program in any sport until most of this cancer in the AD is "exercised".
Bones never lie.

spencer1989#206886 writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

It's being reported that administration confiscated her computer and deleted all of the e-mails. Many of which contained conversations between her and Hart.

IF emails were deliberately deleted....That will not look good for UT. Just because stuff gets deleted does not mean it's trully deleted...It's still there. And IF they were indeed deleted, they can be retrieved by programs that do exactly that (unless a software was used to sweep the deleted hard drive stuff). Then it would look that more worse.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say not gonna have a winning program in any sport until most of this cancer in the AD is "exercised".
Bones never lie.

* exorcised..Witch Doctor say really same lol.
BNL

rocky_topper writes:

It is customary that when you are let go from anywhere, you are usually escorted out, you don't get to take your laptop or computer which belongs to the company. The laptop most likely was purchased by UT and was its property. I'm not sure I see the point of this.

RoadTrip writes:

Hart was hired to do what he is doing by UT with the full support of the trustees and boosters. New broom sweeps clean. Anybody else not getting with the program will find themselves out as well. Deal with it. Hart had a year to get his file built. UT knew legal action could follow before the termination. Attorneys want to make money as well. These type lawsuits are a dime a dozen.

rocky_topper writes:

in response to RoadTrip:

Hart was hired to do what he is doing by UT with the full support of the trustees and boosters. New broom sweeps clean. Anybody else not getting with the program will find themselves out as well. Deal with it. Hart had a year to get his file built. UT knew legal action could follow before the termination. Attorneys want to make money as well. These type lawsuits are a dime a dozen.

Absolutely. They already knew the Lady Vol personnel were proned to file lawsuits. They were prepared well in advance for it.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to skippy23:

they can delete them from her computer, but they are still on the email servers. they can be retrieved

I know this.

UTQB70 writes:

You are watching a real AD at work. He makes decisons and doesn't back off. I guarantee you he meets with legal before pulling the trigger. Every fan should back him 100%.

NeylandWest writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

It's being reported that administration confiscated her computer and deleted all of the e-mails. Many of which contained conversations between her and Hart.

Who is reporting this tampering of evidence?

Theo writes:

in response to RoadTrip:

Hart was hired to do what he is doing by UT with the full support of the trustees and boosters. New broom sweeps clean. Anybody else not getting with the program will find themselves out as well. Deal with it. Hart had a year to get his file built. UT knew legal action could follow before the termination. Attorneys want to make money as well. These type lawsuits are a dime a dozen.

Yea talk on but Hart seems to be cleaning house in the Women's athletic staff primarily. Why the hell did we hire a redneck from Mullet State for AD?

Theo writes:

in response to rocky_topper:

What we have now from the women's basketball program are Heather Mason, Jenny Moshak, and Debby Jennings all with a lawsuit against Tennessee just to try to protect their jobs and increase their benefits packages. Those are some great Lady Vol representatives right there who really care about the university.

You obviously like your women barefoot, pregnant and ignorant. Check out a calender soon it is 2012.

NeylandWest writes:

FWIW, this is my take on Hart - He reminds me of my dad when it was landscaping time. My mom would cautiously watch him prune the bushes and trees, often thinking he cut too much. Usually, things looked really good after they had time to grow.

I'm going to cautiously sit back and watch. Complaining gets me nowhere fast and it isn't like it's 1998. Obviously, some things need some pruning folks.

The_Ghost_of_Neyland writes:

Dave doesn't seem to have much "Hart".

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

Once again it's so pleasant being a Vandy fan. Today our paper told of the win over Georgia in the Mens SEC Baseball Tourney last night, while Ut talks about a football player stealing laptops and more lawsuits from long time 'Vols for Life". What a mess on the hill.

budd#207344 writes:

in response to TennVolAlum:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

The definition of age discrimination is hiring a younger person to fill the position of an older worker. The definition of gender discrimination is the hiring of a man instead of a woman.

volfanlostnbama writes:

in response to UTQB70:

You are watching a real AD at work. He makes decisons and doesn't back off. I guarantee you he meets with legal before pulling the trigger. Every fan should back him 100%.

Yep, a vol for lifer who really agrees with you...this gives a whole new meaning to CDD's statement "if chancellor check is going to do his job" in the other article yesterday. Now we know what he is talking about. We will see if Cheeks has the backbone & kahunahs to back a real athletic director up on meaningful decisions. This AD department had become completely incestuous in how it did business. Now that its being brought to light and dealt with everyone wants to cry and whine...just let them call the whambulance if they want to. I for one say its about time that all this phooey hit the fan, because if it doesn't its just going to be like it is right now all the time in the coming future!

GeneralNeyland96redux writes:

I'd like to know when "doing things the right way" became such a foreign concept? Not just at UT, but everywhere!

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to NeylandWest:

Who is reporting this tampering of evidence?

"A May 18 letter to University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek from Jennings’ attorney, David Burkhalter, will likely confirm the worst fears of Lady Vols fans. Burkhalter’s letter says that on May 15, UT Athletics Director Dave Hart called Jennings into his office, accused her of insubordination, and gave her three and a half hours to decide whether to retire or be fired.

The letter says Hart wanted her decision before he took off on a public relations jaunt at the end of the day with the Big Orange Caravan. When she returned to her office, it says, Jennings found that her computer had been removed and her e-mail files deleted."

http://www.metropulse.com/news/2012/m...

On top of that, they gave her 3 hours to decide between being fired or retiring. On top of that, she was replaced by a younger male. Why replace her in the first place if they needed someone to do the job? Someone not as qualified as her. read the link and look at the awards she's raked in. The women's side of things seemed to be the only thing in order on the hill the past few years. IMO if they're gonna start looking to can folks, it should start on the men's side...even though it's the women's side being removed. You will also notice in the link that her removal has caused quite a negative response from the national media.

rocky_topper writes:

in response to Theo:

You obviously like your women barefoot, pregnant and ignorant. Check out a calender soon it is 2012.

Absolutely not, but each program there should live within the monies that it makes instead of taking millions over what they are actually bringing in. It's nothing more than checks and balances. We all know it should have been done years ago. If it's women's basketball needing to have cuts, then so be it. If it is a men's sport taking more off the top than the revenues it brings it, I believe in making cuts as well. I'm glad we have Dave Hart to tackle the money-sucking Lady Vols' programs which have been a ball and chain to the university and the men's athletics for years.

mountainbrook writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Once again it's so pleasant being a Vandy fan. Today our paper told of the win over Georgia in the Mens SEC Baseball Tourney last night, while Ut talks about a football player stealing laptops and more lawsuits from long time 'Vols for Life". What a mess on the hill.

A bad day as a UT fan is better than any day as a Commode door fan.

thevoice writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say not gonna have a winning program in any sport until most of this cancer in the AD is "exercised".
Bones never lie.

Even though it does appear the plaintiff needs to exercise more, I think you meant "exorcised."

ULTIMATEVOLUNTEER writes:

There isn't many UT people left in UT's athletic program anymore. Sad.

rtrchatt writes:

Dysfunctional family at its best but DH will get it straight......

vollaw writes:

in response to NeylandWest:

Who is reporting this tampering of evidence?

It's in this article by John Adams. Try reading it.

vols2#227315 writes:

Hart is getting one step on his replacement. He needs to take all of assistants and doodley and go home where he belongs(alabama).

SoddyVol writes:

The entire Lady Vols Basketball program is being torn apart. Holly's job has gone from difficult before Pat retired to Extremely difficult with Hart in charge. Everything from hiring his own choice in the guy from Ole Miss to getting rid of loyal staff.

Razor784 writes:

This is getting ridiculous, first Bud Ford, now Jennings, I say we fire this clown before he gets the university into any more lawsuits. Let's get it started, FireDaveHart.com

jack4444 writes:

They are combining the AD's right? Abolishing the women's athletic department. This is natural attrition.

But there's a classy way to retire long time loyal employees like Jennings and Bud Ford.

And this ain't it.

DroopyDrawers writes:

Dave Hart aka "The Hatchet Man"

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to thevoice:

Even though it does appear the plaintiff needs to exercise more, I think you meant "exorcised."

Witch Doctor caught it a couple of post later. Witch Doctor pretty sure they both bad things. lol.
Bones never lie.

lyafarre writes:

Dave Hart's running the department like a business, which is probably what's needed to get its house in financial order. And like a business, personnel decisions are made based on what value you bring to the organization, period.
It seems Hart saw Debby (and likely Bud) as lingering elements of a bloated department that had developed a culture of cronyism. I mean, come on, her main arguments for not having to leave were "I've got medical bills" and "Coach Summitt likes me."
To me, that really sums up the overall cultural problem within the department.

Observer43 writes:

It's all about the money!

underthehill writes:

in response to SoddyVol:

The entire Lady Vols Basketball program is being torn apart. Holly's job has gone from difficult before Pat retired to Extremely difficult with Hart in charge. Everything from hiring his own choice in the guy from Ole Miss to getting rid of loyal staff.

Hiring cronies from bama and the guy from ole miss should open the eyes of the few who fail to see this is not downsizing..it is simply purging UT connected employees..I hope it backfires and becomes obvious how stupid it is when a large number of fans and donors consider themselves to be "purged"..

Ringleader writes:

in response to UTQB70:

You are watching a real AD at work. He makes decisons and doesn't back off. I guarantee you he meets with legal before pulling the trigger. Every fan should back him 100%.

You need to read up on him and see why FSU fired him........Go to orlandosentinel.com and archive Dave Hart.

underthehill writes:

in response to lyafarre:

Dave Hart's running the department like a business, which is probably what's needed to get its house in financial order. And like a business, personnel decisions are made based on what value you bring to the organization, period.
It seems Hart saw Debby (and likely Bud) as lingering elements of a bloated department that had developed a culture of cronyism. I mean, come on, her main arguments for not having to leave were "I've got medical bills" and "Coach Summitt likes me."
To me, that really sums up the overall cultural problem within the department.

..running a business that needs the support of fans and donors..purging UT connected employees and hiring bama cronies don't seem to me to be a very good business practice..time will tell..

Theo writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Once again it's so pleasant being a Vandy fan. Today our paper told of the win over Georgia in the Mens SEC Baseball Tourney last night, while Ut talks about a football player stealing laptops and more lawsuits from long time 'Vols for Life". What a mess on the hill.

Yes and I understand the Women's bowling team should really be great this year. That is the last Vandy team to win a chamnpionship right?

Theo writes:

in response to rocky_topper:

Absolutely not, but each program there should live within the monies that it makes instead of taking millions over what they are actually bringing in. It's nothing more than checks and balances. We all know it should have been done years ago. If it's women's basketball needing to have cuts, then so be it. If it is a men's sport taking more off the top than the revenues it brings it, I believe in making cuts as well. I'm glad we have Dave Hart to tackle the money-sucking Lady Vols' programs which have been a ball and chain to the university and the men's athletics for years.

Well given your logic I guess we should cancel all sports except for football and men's and women's basketball.
The point of athletics at a university is to provide a wider range of experiences for students. It is not a profit making endeavor nor is it for the enjoyment and entertainment of alumni (sidewalk or otherwise). Those things happen but that is secondary. Granted we seem to forget why we have college athletics but that is the original and current intent.
Regarding your comment about money sucking Lady Vols programs being a ball and chail on men's athletics I would suggest that you go get romantic with yourself. It is probably all you will be getting if that is your opinion of women.

volman444 writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Once again it's so pleasant being a Vandy fan. Today our paper told of the win over Georgia in the Mens SEC Baseball Tourney last night, while Ut talks about a football player stealing laptops and more lawsuits from long time 'Vols for Life". What a mess on the hill.

Nice 12th place finish in the sec all sports standing vandy. Nice indeed.

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

in response to Theo:

Yes and I understand the Women's bowling team should really be great this year. That is the last Vandy team to win a chamnpionship right?

I promise Vandy would never fire our national Championship coach for lane kiffin. Vandy went to the final four last year in baseball, when was the last time UT had a final four team in any mens big three sports. 1998 with Fulmer, who you FIRED. And Vandy won last night while the Vols sat home once again. How does it feel to miss Bowls, NCAA Tourneys and Baseball Tourneys? We wouldnt know, we went to all three!!!

tovolny writes:

in response to rocky_topper:

She was making too much money to be carrying around a clipboard for a coach. I like what Hart is doing. He is tackling all sports programs on The Hill, cutting the fat, and boosting revenues for the athletic department. This should have been done years ago. He hasn't targeted any one particular sport. They are all one program now and operate from the same athletic budget, and he is aggressively going after each and cutting and streamlining just as all corporations are doing.

The only women's program there that even barely breaks even is women's basketball. The men's athletics have carried the other sports for years and they are now going through a dismal period as well. It is just the nature of economics. Men's football cannot continue to carry every sport at Tennessee just because they want to keep assistants and familiar faces around. It is a business and is being run as such. All of the sports are being affected, and the past practices that we have seen within the athletics there will never be like they were. It has been frustrating for years for athletic ticket prices to be increased to the point of almost not being able to afford them by the common family just to prevent from going after these unnecessary expenses.

Unfortunately for women's sports, Hart is now in charge and their own is no longer protected. He has all sports to consider and operate within one budget to do so.

Can you relate some facts...or perhaps reveal your source? Would you be willing to answer some questions regarding your remarks in a deposition next Tuesday at 8:30 AM in Christian Ponders office located at 812 Foot St. Suite OU, Complex 4, Unit GGF? To establish your identity, please email us at
ou812@aol.com. We eagerly await your response.

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