UT says Debby Jennings was 'insubordinate, disrespectful'

Amy Smotherman Burgess/Knoxville News Sentinel 
 Debby Jennings, the former University of Tennessee Lady Vols Associate Athletics Director for Media Relations, at Stokely Athletic Center in June 2009. A lawyer for Jennings said the former longtime UT employee was offered the choice on May 15 to be fired, resign or retire by athletic director Dave Hart for "insubordination."

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Amy Smotherman Burgess/Knoxville News Sentinel Debby Jennings, the former University of Tennessee Lady Vols Associate Athletics Director for Media Relations, at Stokely Athletic Center in June 2009. A lawyer for Jennings said the former longtime UT employee was offered the choice on May 15 to be fired, resign or retire by athletic director Dave Hart for "insubordination."

University of Tennessee Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics Dave Hart has responded to the threat of legal action concerning Debby Jennings' departure from the athletic department by issuing a statement that said the former associate athletics director for media relations was "insubordinate, disrespectful and fostered an atmosphere of negativity and division."

"I lost confidence that her employment was in the best interests of the Athletics Department,'' Hart said Thursday.

After 35 years as the primary media contact for Lady Vols athletics, UT announced Jennings' retirement last Friday.

"Based on her years of service, she was eligible for full retirement from the university, including medical benefits," Hart said in his statement. "I gave her the opportunity to retire instead of being terminated, and she chose that option."

Hart's response came a day after a letter from Jennings' attorney David Burkhalter to UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek was obtained by the News Sentinel through an open records request. In the letter, Burkhalter said Jennings had been advised to "pursue a discrimination/retaliation case against UT" after Hart offered Jennings the choice on May 15 to be fired for "insubordination," resign or retire.

In a letter dated Thursday and provided to the News Sentinel by school officials, university assistant general counsel Michael D. Fitzgerald said "the university did not terminate Ms. Jennings' employment because of age, gender or in retaliation for earlier complaints of discrimination."

The letter virtually mirrored Hart's statement regarding Jennings and added: "Further, she repeatedly demonstrated resistance to working cooperatively in a unified athletics department."

Fitzgerald's letter also stated, "Based on the manner in which Ms. Jennings is pursuing her agenda through the media, we question the sincerity of your suggestion that Ms. Jennings wishes to resolve this matter on an 'amicable' basis."

A phone book-thick stack of emails and letters from Jennings' personnel file released Thursday to the News Sentinel included a March 16 email from Jennings to Hart that began: "I learned yesterday that you just told Pat Summitt that she will not be back next year as our head women's basketball coach and I respectfully ask you to please reconsider this decision as it is not in the best interests of the university and also, in view of Pat's condition, it is discriminatory and wrong."

The balance of the email was devoted to Jennings defending her commitment to the athletic department's consolidation and defending herself against Hart's observation in a Feb. 27 email that Jennings had been "very negative and divisive about the change in structure and have worked against the goal of a unified athletics department."

Hart's response to Jennings' March 16 email focused on her assertion concerning Summitt: "The email you sent me at 12:52 a.m. regarding coach Summitt is so inaccurate, on so many levels, that it does not warrant a meaningful response. I would think that a person holding a position such as yours would understand, far better than most, the negative impact of your rumor speculation."

There also was a memo dated March 1, 2011, from Jimmy Stanton, an associate athletic director for media relations, to senior associate athletic director Chris Fuller, describing a meeting with Jennings for an annual performance review. Stanton said Jennings, "feels she has not been included in decisions and strategy moving forward to the degree she would have liked." He also wrote that Jennings claimed that Stanton had "engaged in both age and sex discrimination related to her."

Stanton wrote that he considered the accusation "hurtful, and that this was absolutely not true, but did not address it further."

Fuller subsequently met with Jennings concerning gender/age discrimination claims. In a memo dated May 10, 2011, he wrote that he asked Jennings why she had not followed up with the Office of Equity and Diversity and she replied that she had, "received some advice but she was not ready at this time to advance the complaint."

Fuller also wrote: "I shared with Debby that I don't believe she ever really bought in to Stanton (or Fuller for that matter) as her direct supervisor and that much of her behavior would indicate that she is not committed to the direction that we're trying to create for athletic communications."

Stanton's review of Jennings for the 2010 calendar year stated that she either achieved or exceeded expectations in all job elements reviewed. He went on say: "Debby's work with Lady Vol basketball has been outstanding for decades and continues to be among the best in the nation."

The review chronicled a year in which Stanton, in a memo to Fuller, detailed a Sept. 27 conversation with Jennings that demonstrated what Stanton felt was "a disrespectful and, at times, downright hostile attitude toward numerous internal constituencies."

In the 2010 review, the lone reference to any internal problems involving Jennings came with the following comment: "While there is limited evidence to indicate that she believed in the direction in which athletic communications is headed, her goals indicate that she views this as a high priority for her in 2011."

"Although I do not normally comment on personnel decisions, given the nature and volume of inaccurate information that has been disseminated from those around Debby Jennings, I believe it is necessary to set the record straight. I lost confidence that her employment was in the best interests of the Athletics Department. Specifically, I concluded that she was insubordinate, disrespectful and fostered an atmosphere of negativity and division.

"Based on her years of service, she was eligible for full retirement from the University, including medical benefits. I gave her the opportunity to retire instead of being terminated, and she chose that option. I will have no additional comment at this time, and I wish Debby well in her future endeavors."

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Comments » 86

Longhunter writes:

Like it or not, Gov. Bredesen was a silent "shot caller" and worked behind the scenes for nearly a decade.
Not only will you see this (early retirement) in the A.D. department but also in other "agenda driven" departments as well.
This University has suffered for quite a while now.
Heads will continue to be cut, as so they should.

Thanks goes to the “new” shot callers working behind the scenes, working to get this University back to what it once was.

The removal of the State’s “civil service status” from the employee’s handbook should serve as a warning.

Salute and “Go Big Orange”

AlexAndersonAAradio writes:

Small Mike was on the radio giving his support to Hart on this matter all day. Perhaps that's what inspired Hart to make a public statement.

WetumpkaThumpa writes:

Regardless of what you believe in this matter, it's a a shame that she came out and said that the Men's Athletic Department was an embarrassment and a black eye for the University. She may have been at UTK for 35 years and she probably did a great job, but you can't say that especially when you are being paid $94,000 by that same Athletic Department. The same Athletic Department that is trying to unite the men's and women's programs in order to cut costs in a rough financial environment. I'm not sure how you could expect to keep your job after saying things like that considering the circumstances? She still has a pension and full benefits in retirement and will still be better off than 90% of Americans.

WetumpkaThumpa writes:

P.S. The only discrimination that I see here was her blatantly calling out the MEN'S Athletic Department that she didn't want to be a part of. Times are changing for the better on the Hill. Finally, Dave Hart is doing what needs to be done across the board in all aspects of the University, not just the Athletics Department. I wish somebody would come in and shake the Administration up like this. It's all been long overdue.

AlexAndersonAAradio writes:

I'm not sure Hart forced Summit out. I don't think he could have quitely got away with that the way he would have.

thevoice writes:

Sounds as if she was a weak link all along. No work setting has room for complainers and disruptors. Happy purging.

UTistheOLEMISSoftheEAST writes:

I like her shirt.

Only in Tennessee.

ladivolfan writes:

It's official. Hart's a jerk.

chbradshaw writes:

$94,000 for a media relations person for women's sports??? That's as crazy as that 6 figure assistant trainer who also sued the university.

That should not have been a full-time job.

Let's see...

Summer - nothing going on

Fall - nothing going on

Winter - local media covers the Lady Vols basketball and not much else

Spring - local media covers a few Lady Vol softball games

I'm sure there were all kinds of media guides and other types of things done that were never read. All produced under the crazy idea that there was public interest in UT Women's sports beyond a few, and I mean very few, Lady Vols basketball fans.

This is what happens when no one had the guts ever since the Gloria Ray days to acknowledge there was little interest in Women's sports and certainly no need for a bloated, unnecessary but politically correct separate Women's Athletic Department.

That work, while unnecessary, should have been handled by a student intern.

Her email was so arrogant to Hart concerning Summit that one would have to question the value of any work she did given her attitude and poor judgment.

BruisedOrange writes:

I can understand how difficult it would be to go from "working for the Lady Vols" to working for all UT athletics. The LVs are a class act from top-down AND from the bottom-up. Look at their grades, degrees, and graduation rates. Darn right I'd feel proud to work for them!

But moving from that realm to a "unified" athletic department... that's two different worlds colliding!

Some Lady Vols arrive needing a little polishing, and a little more time discipline. Some male athletes arrive needing total re-socialization in order to adapt to a relatively civilized world! It's the difference between being a finishing school matron and a Boys Club social worker.

I can appreciate how much ANYone would resent that kind of job change.

But no one gets paid to share their resentment at the office. When you can no longer do your new job wholeheartedly, it's time to request a change to something you can.

I'm in no position to assume either side we've heard from in this is 100% accurate. But the picture that's coming together from what's common from both sides is understandable.

And unless Hart was involved in some kind of secret, malevolent conspiracy that Jennings actually was aware of... it's going to be tough to defend her against these charges. [imho]

Classof72 writes:

I suggest that UT attorneys should try to settle this matter before it goes to federal court.

This matter exposes UTAD to issues relating to Title IX, gender and age discrimination. Taken with the Bud Ford case, it raises the question of Hart's competence and the basic commitment of UTAD to principles of fairness and decency. There are practical reasons that organizations routinely use the "corporate handshake (containing a big check)" to avoid such issues.

Hart's conduct has held UT up to public ridicule and contempt that can be ill afforded. Worse, it can be reasonably seen as a slap in the face of Pat Summitt. If this and the Ford case continue, things will only get worse. Settle and stop the bleeding.

GreerVol22 writes:

I don't know all the facts, but it sounds like she was pissed that the "good ole girl" network was crumling before her eyes and some smart alec lawyer thought they could treat this like a hate crime and make a name for themselves.

Money is getting tighter by the day.Hart knows this and he has to do some unpleasant things that will hurt people without a doubt. Take the offer of retirment with bennys and go write part time for somebody.

By money getting tighter, I really mean we have to save up for a new football coach unless Dooley goes about 8-4 this year. And I sincerely hope he does.

DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho writes:

in response to JohnVol0341:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

powert#205805 writes:

in response to JohnVol0341:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Dead on target. Nice summation of the situation.

DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho writes:

in response to WetumpkaThumpa:

Regardless of what you believe in this matter, it's a a shame that she came out and said that the Men's Athletic Department was an embarrassment and a black eye for the University. She may have been at UTK for 35 years and she probably did a great job, but you can't say that especially when you are being paid $94,000 by that same Athletic Department. The same Athletic Department that is trying to unite the men's and women's programs in order to cut costs in a rough financial environment. I'm not sure how you could expect to keep your job after saying things like that considering the circumstances? She still has a pension and full benefits in retirement and will still be better off than 90% of Americans.

Yeah...well, IF she did say that, she's right. The men's athletic department is a mess.

SuziQ writes:

So this is a top 25 University?

DroopyDrawers writes:

Dave Hart aka "The Hatchet Man".

frblalack writes:

in response to JohnVol0341:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Johnvol,

Some of your comments are really questionable. I for one do not believe Coach Hart was brought in to fire Coach Dooley. He WAS brought in to improve the athletic department!

Just one question for you, how in the world do your shoulders support that thing attached to your neck?

All Vols - All the Time - Vol for Life - Believe!

BIGEJ writes:

Transition/merging from one work/reporting structure to another structure is difficult for those mandated to manage the merge to those affected. Some make the job easier for management decision making with attitude and input. Cuts can happen to the 40+ yr tenured to the temporary employee. Welcome to the world of "work." It happens.....

gillblog writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

After a lifetime in corporate-world, my experience has been that "HR Policies" go only as far as the distance between the CEO and the problem employee. The closer the problem is to the head man, regardless of the reasons for the problem, the less "HR Policies" matter.

One other point; Hart says he "normally" doesn't make public comments on such matters but he did this time because of the "nature and volume" of inaccurate information from those around Jennings; suggesting she wasn't alone in her contentiousness. Now that he's broken with his "normal" policies, I think we deserve to hear the whole story.

PHAT_VOL writes:

Change is always hard. Just ask WALT. Hart will bring THE VOLS into the modern age of athletics. Get with the program or get out of the program. This is how all sucessful buisness in America is run. Repairing what Mr. Hamilton broke is gonna take a while. Hang in there Mr. Hart.
GO VOLS !!!

PHAT_VOL writes:

I wonder what Mr. Summitt would have to say on this topic?

bmgvirgo#210233 writes:

in response to chbradshaw:

$94,000 for a media relations person for women's sports??? That's as crazy as that 6 figure assistant trainer who also sued the university.

That should not have been a full-time job.

Let's see...

Summer - nothing going on

Fall - nothing going on

Winter - local media covers the Lady Vols basketball and not much else

Spring - local media covers a few Lady Vol softball games

I'm sure there were all kinds of media guides and other types of things done that were never read. All produced under the crazy idea that there was public interest in UT Women's sports beyond a few, and I mean very few, Lady Vols basketball fans.

This is what happens when no one had the guts ever since the Gloria Ray days to acknowledge there was little interest in Women's sports and certainly no need for a bloated, unnecessary but politically correct separate Women's Athletic Department.

That work, while unnecessary, should have been handled by a student intern.

Her email was so arrogant to Hart concerning Summit that one would have to question the value of any work she did given her attitude and poor judgment.

You are a moron and have NO CLUE about what a SID does. The LV's are known throughout the WORLD and they get media requests all year. This is actually a very stressful job and it never ends. After you attempted it for a year, I would like to know if $94K was enough for all the grief and phooey you have to put up with. I am betting it is not.

bmgvirgo#210233 writes:

Besides the fact that until this year, DJ was in charge of ALL women's athletics sports information. She was the director and while she had 2 FT staff members (plus GA's) working under her, technically she was responsible for anything that came out of the office.

westknoxrepub writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

My guess is any HR policy has a clause in it that contains the phrase "at the supervisors discretion" or something very similar. The fact is all these Lady Vol employees haven't come to terms with the fact the Athletic Departments are merging and they need to do so. Dave Hart is the boss, he was brought in here because he had a backbone that Mike Hamilton didn't have.

USAFSP writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Now that is a lame comment to make either out of prejudice, sophomoric animosity or complete ignorance of the facts.

All of you who attack this new AD don't kid yourself for a second that not only does UT President Cheeks know what is going on, he is behind the scenes directing and and orchestrating it. The new AD could not do any of this without full support and blessing from his boss the school president.

sweetmama writes:

Her "power" went to her head a long time ago. I have personal experience with that. She wasn't as competent as all the awards might suggest. Her writing skills were suspect. She was in over her head for a long time. She obviously isn't a team player & didn't need the job as much as she said, or she would have sucked it up and worked within the system and done what was asked of her. Many people have been the victims of downsizing and change all over our country. Instead of being grateful to even have a job, she chose to criticize and attempted to throw her weight around. When Cronan left, then Summitt, her protection was gone. I do not feel sorry for her. I do feel sad that apparently Summitt was told (by Hart) that she needed to retire. Jennings came to her defense and was understandably upset about all the changes that were occurring, and her loyalty to Summitt is admirable. But if she needed her job as much as she says, she should have accepted the inevitable instead of being critical and bashing the men's athletic department. By harshly speaking out, she sealed her fate. I would fire her also if I was the CEO.

rocky_topper writes:

in response to ladivolfan:

It's official. Hart's a jerk.

It's official. Jennings is a stubborn bit## without a job. Maybe she was the HDIC afterall and felt that everyone actually worked for her.

sweetmama writes:

in response to rocky_topper:

It's official. Jennings is a stubborn bit## without a job. Maybe she was the HDIC afterall and felt that everyone actually worked for her.

You don't know how close to being correct you are.

rocky_topper writes:

As far as Men's Athletics being a black eye to the university, I know the rest of us have followed the Lady Vols for the past 4 years.

1. 2008-2009...Eliminated in the FIRST round of the tournament by Bowling Green.
2. 2009-2010...Eliminated in the Sweet 16.
3. 2010-2011...Eliminated in the Elite 8.
4. 2011-2012...Eliminated in the Elite 8 with two players being drafted in the Top 5 and with three being drafted all together.

As for wondering if Hart did things the right way, of course he did. I'm sure they are smart enough to figure out that all of the Lady Vol personnel are going to squeel discrimination at some level to resist the change. If we can see the pattern, I'm sure they do too. I'm sure they have the intelligence to know to go by the book, because they know it will come.

Keep going Hart and cull these un-needed jobs!

Biff_Boffo writes:

It is amazing how countless other athletic programs manage to survive without an independent women's athletic department.

lahvolman2 writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Walt, you haven't been paying attention.... this things didn't happen over a 4 hour period, it has been going on for years....had Pat not been there, this piece of trailor trash would have been gone long ago.... BTW.. how long you been in retail????

orangepeel writes:

David Hart should have never been hired in the first place. He needs to be fired along with Jimmy Cheek. They are both an embarrassment to the University of Tennessee.

gillblog writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Your last sentence is exactly right !

And, honestly, all it takes is for one person in some meeting someday to raise their hand and say; 'I think our sizing may need to be addressed'. At that point EVERYthing else takes a back seat.

rockytopinga writes:

Another long time university sports person gone!!
These are the people who made UT sports what they were.
All these new faces are making UT a second tier sports program across the board.
Championships are a thing of the past and we might as well get used to it!!!!!!!!!!!!!

MemphisVOLALum writes:

I would like for the person leveling the charges to step up and give evidence of those charges. That means both sides. The email that really ignited this explosion is out. Where is the proof of discrimination? Where is Pat Summitt on this issue? Whether it is race, gender, or whatever, to disagree does not mean discrimination. Please provide proof. It the dicrimination existed, then the ones doing it should be gone. If not, then the one charging it should forfeit some $$$ back to the university. This whole mess is an embarrassment to the university with no winners regardless of the outcome.

lahvolman2 writes:

in response to orangepeel:

David Hart should have never been hired in the first place. He needs to be fired along with Jimmy Cheek. They are both an embarrassment to the University of Tennessee.

Hey peel...posts like yours goes to show you would have worked well in her department and would also be already fired on on the chopping block......you people rant all you like but get used to the fact that this ain't the UT of bygone days of Dicky and Hamilton... this is not the good ole boys network... it's the beginning of the end of the good ole boys network.... get behind the program or find another university to piss and moan about...

Volunatic writes:

Odd that KNS didn't bother to get UT's side of the story until a day after printing Jennings' version as if it were purely factual.

rocky_topper writes:

in response to andforhisnexttune:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Blaming anyone or anything other than on the program itself won't hold water for most. The Lady Vols began their descent with the exodus of Candace Parker and her team. It's been horrid watching the Lady Vols Athletic Program trying to manage the past four years. Blame all you/they want, but it started long before Hart's arrival. Hart came with a directive to merge the two departments, streamline the jobs/positions, and he's doing just that. UT Athletics as a whole needed it!

ccjs writes:

I certainly have my own thoughts about Ms. Jennings and what is going on and I believe I shall keep those thoughts to myself but I won't be surprised when they are publicly aired by others.

westknoxrepub writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You seem to have an tendency to hate people for no good reason. You've shown irrational hatred toward Johnny Majors and now you seem to dislike Dave Hart because he forced someone who was clearly a problem employee to resign. You may need to seek counseling for some unresolved issues.

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

She told the truth, but UT hates the truth. Maybe she didnt want to be a part of the excuse train called UT mens Sports. No Bowl Game, No NCAA Tourney and NO SEC Tourney in Baseball. Seven coaches bolt to lesser schools without pay raises in football, seniors tell the Media the team has quit. . UT loses to Austin Peay in Baseball and Basketball in the same year. What part is not "AN EMBARRASEMENT"?

sticknmove15 writes:

The only people who care about women's sports are old people in knoxville and connecticut. No one else in the world cares.

madmaxvol writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Well, as long as you only got a verbal warning (per the progressive discipline policy) for punching a customer, it would probably be o.k.

rocky_topper writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

She told the truth, but UT hates the truth. Maybe she didnt want to be a part of the excuse train called UT mens Sports. No Bowl Game, No NCAA Tourney and NO SEC Tourney in Baseball. Seven coaches bolt to lesser schools without pay raises in football, seniors tell the Media the team has quit. . UT loses to Austin Peay in Baseball and Basketball in the same year. What part is not "AN EMBARRASEMENT"?

You are probably right. She wanted to remain in a position that had its own division where they could continually mis-use funds from the men's athletics to promote their own selfish agendas and to continually promote themselves up the pay scale. That sounds about right.

westknoxrepub writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

It seems like Jenning was the classless one, throwing out discrimination claims against the Athletic Department, all Hart was doing was defending his department. Cearly there's some deeper issue you have with Hart, and I suspect it's fairly petty.

etu_vol_fan writes:

in response to bmgvirgo#210233:

You are a moron and have NO CLUE about what a SID does. The LV's are known throughout the WORLD and they get media requests all year. This is actually a very stressful job and it never ends. After you attempted it for a year, I would like to know if $94K was enough for all the grief and phooey you have to put up with. I am betting it is not.

Where do I sign up for it? I work in a call center for less than a 3rd of that salary and would gladly handle media relations for the Lady Vols. I talk to entitled people all day and it I think I can handle it. Not only would it be cool to work for the best womens program in the world but pulling down nearly 6 figures would be pretty sweet!

notorange writes:

in response to DroopyDrawers:

Dave Hart aka "The Hatchet Man".

He just wanted to see how it felt to "hatchet" someone instead of being the one getting the "hatchet".............. ;)

CharlestonVOL writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

She told the truth, but UT hates the truth. Maybe she didnt want to be a part of the excuse train called UT mens Sports. No Bowl Game, No NCAA Tourney and NO SEC Tourney in Baseball. Seven coaches bolt to lesser schools without pay raises in football, seniors tell the Media the team has quit. . UT loses to Austin Peay in Baseball and Basketball in the same year. What part is not "AN EMBARRASEMENT"?

Hey professional morn, when you talk trash at least spell the words correctly. It's "Embarrassment". OK? Now back to daycare for you.

CharlestonVOL writes:

in response to CharlestonVOL:

Hey professional morn, when you talk trash at least spell the words correctly. It's "Embarrassment". OK? Now back to daycare for you.

Dang... Now I'm the moron. Professional Idiot must be rubbing off on me.

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