Debby Jennings files suit against UT for 'unlawful discrimination'; says Pat Summitt was told she would not return as coach

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."

Debby Jennings filed suit Thursday in federal court against the University of Tennessee and athletic director Dave Hart alleging "unlawful discrimination and retaliation" after her abrupt departure this spring from an athletic department that she served for more than 35 years as the primary media contact for Lady Vols athletics.

The suit was filed by Jennings' attorney, David A. Burkhalter, and consists of 41 pages and 11 exhibits. It seeks a trial by jury and both monetary and injunctive relief. It also specifically requests a court order requiring Hart and athletic department officials Chris Fuller and Jimmy Stanton to undergo "appropriate diversity and ethics training."

Stanton said Thursday that UT athletics officials would have no comment on the suit.

The suit alleges that Hart told former women's basketball coach Pat Summitt in March, the day before the team traveled to Chicago to begin the NCAA tournament, that she would not be coaching the team during the 2012-13 season, and that he planned to name Holly Warlick to replace college basketball's all-time winningest coach.

The suit says that when Summitt told Jennings about the conversation with Hart that Summitt was "very upset and extremely hurt." It also says that Summitt told her secretary, personal administrative assistant and a Lady Vols assistant coach.

Summitt, who announced in August of 2011 that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia Alzheimer's type, stepped down on April 18 to become head coach emeritus for the program. At that time, she said the decision was hers and that she was comfortable with it. Assistant coach Warlick was promoted.

In response to the suit's allegation concerning Summitt, UT spokesperson Margie Nichols said, "that statement is absolutely not true. It was Pat's idea to be head coach emeritus."

Jennings' suit contends that her opposition to Hart's treatment of Summitt was a factor in Hart's decision to give Jennings the choice during a May 15 meeting to be fired for "insubordination," resign or retire from her position as associate athletics director for media relations. Jennings, 57, says in the suit that this was the first time she had heard from Hart — or anyone else — that he felt Jennings had allegedly been "insubordinate." Jennings says that she was given until 4:30 p.m. that day to make a decision and that when she returned to her office, her computer had been "confiscated and removed."

Burkhalter said in a letter 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."

UT's response was to issue a statement on May 24 that said Jennings was "insubordinate, disrespectful and fostered an atmosphere of negativity and division." In the statement, Hart said: "I lost confidence that her employment was in the best interests of the Athletics Department."

The university also released emails and letters from Jennings' personnel file.

Overall, Jennings' suit alleges that she was "marginalized and ostracized" and "denied employment opportunities due to her gender/or age." It notes that she was replaced by a younger male, Eric Trainer.

Burkhalter said that the suit was filed in federal court because it pertains to, among other issues, Title IX. The next steps include pre-trial discovery and depositions. Burkhalter also said a complaint was filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Related document

Complaint filed against the University of Tennessee and Dave Hart on behalf of Debby Jennings alleging unlawful discrimination.

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Comments » 145

lemme_axya_this writes:

I've been expecting this

Millisa writes:

Dont blame Debby aint right how they treated her If Coach Summitt was still HC She wouldnt had allowed it.

jobrando#216494 writes:

VOLS 35 GA 31

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say now we get to see who "VollDoll" was on these boards. lol. Witch Doctor hope they dont settle and walk this all the way up to court.
Bones never lie.

dwolfcreek#397971 writes:

in response to Millisa:

Dont blame Debby aint right how they treated her If Coach Summitt was still HC She wouldnt had allowed it.

You shouldn't bite the hand that fed you , things change .

  • September 27, 2012
  • 4:06 p.m.
UTKin1992 writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

  • September 27, 2012
  • 4:10 p.m.
bbmon13#478091 writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

GerryOP writes:

Rules for getting along with the boss:

Rule #1 - The boss is always right.

Rule #2 - See Rule #1.

Ironcity writes:

So let me get this straight she trashes her new boss and his associates in writing and with gossip and then she sues. I just want to make sure I have the facts. If she wants to be treated like everyone else then she should just go the heck away. Losing ones job sucks but its not a reason to file suit.

  • September 27, 2012
  • 4:12 p.m.
Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to bbmon13#478091:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

NashvillePreds writes:

Debbie,
You were terminated b/c you couldn't adapt to change, and become part of the solution, as opposed to part of the problem.
It is troubling you have now chosen to play the role of victim, but the role is in line with much of our society during these times.
If there were justice in our legal system, you would incur the legal expenses associated with the UTAD defense. You are simply hurting the University you claim to love. What an unfortunate legacy that you now bear.
Good day.

wildmed writes:

Just give this loose cannon her $300K and let her fade into the sunset...

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctors only thought about Pat Summit is Debbie is really a great friend to drag Pat thru this if NOT true and tarnish her legacy.(dont believe it is true) Dave Hart couldnt tell Pat Summit when to retire. Witch Doctor say IF true why hasnt anyone from Pats side broken ranks and confirmed this LONG before now? Witch Doctor hope KNS keep publishing all court docs.(thank you.)
Bones never lie.

Tru138 writes:

Surely weren't none of this.

http://abovethelaw.com/2010/06/woman-...

Mama_Also_Calls_Me_Precious writes:

in response to GerryOP:

Rules for getting along with the boss:

Rule #1 - The boss is always right.

Rule #2 - See Rule #1.

Nice observation there captain obvious..

The fact is that the women had a seperate athletic department from the men and Joan Cronan was in charge. That's who the boss should have been and should still be. Number 2, if it is true that Hart forced Summitt out, then he is slimy little rat and no better than that other rat Hammy. CPS give almost 40 years to this program, won an NCAA record amount of championships and oh just by the way, has the most wins of any women or men's basketball coach, active or retired. She earned the right to tell HIM when she was ready to retire, not the other way around. If it does come out that Hart did force Summitt out, true Lady Vol fans will not forgive him for this, other than fair weather fans like Gerry who don't give a ratz a hole about our most beloved coach in UT history..

Mama_Also_Calls_Me_Precious writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctors only thought about Pat Summit is Debbie is really a great friend to drag Pat thru this if NOT true and tarnish her legacy.(dont believe it is true) Dave Hart couldnt tell Pat Summit when to retire. Witch Doctor say IF true why hasnt anyone from Pats side broken ranks and confirmed this LONG before now? Witch Doctor hope KNS keep publishing all court docs.(thank you.)
Bones never lie.

Or you could make the case that the reason CPS hasn't denied what Jennings is alledging is because it's true. And maybe another reason CPS has been quiet about all this is to protect Holly. I'm quite certain that CPS wanted Holly to follow her once she retired...Also, if you remember back to when all the mess came out about UCONN, CPS remained quiet about that as well, even though it was obvious that mr slime ball himself, geno a, committed major recruiting violations in order to land Maya Moore. CPS and Holly are people of high integrity and would rather put the University and the basketball team ahead of alledged heavy handed tactics by our new athletic director..

orange_glory writes:

Summitt publicly said it was her choice. i believe her.

govolsn3 writes:

Will someone PLEASE tell me why isn't COACH FULMER our atheletic director. The man is the biggest VFL in Knoxville. I know for a fact that if you keep the TRADITION going in UT at all atheletic ventures only good things will prevail. UNBELIEVABLE..Go Vols VFL

orange_glory writes:

i don't see her backing down to anyone.

orange_glory writes:

unless she put the university and a smooth transition ahead of her own desires. if this is true then she is ut through and through but like i said above she stated publicly that it was her choice.

cc623 writes:

You just can't talk "trash" to your boss and expect to keep a job simple as that.She pretty much went out of her way to push the envelope and got the ax.Reminds me of the old saying:"you keep on campaigning and you're gonna get elected".

Mr.Hart is in a tough spot and people lose their jobs,it happens daily with this economy.All the more reason to just do your job and keep the complaining to yourself and obviously CPS has never needed anyone to fight her battles for her.Pretty tacky to drag her into this mess in the first place if she was supposed to be a friend.

Mama_Also_Calls_Me_Precious writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Totally agree..My vote and I'm sure your vote and many other loyal Tennessee fans would love to see Fulmer come in and lead the Athletic dept. It would be sweet retribution for the way he was treated by the outside rat known as "Hammy"...

usnavyvolfan__times_free_press_can_shove_it writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say now we get to see who "VollDoll" was on these boards. lol. Witch Doctor hope they dont settle and walk this all the way up to court.
Bones never lie.

Heeeeeeeee's BACK! Good to hear from you again, Witchy!!

orange_glory writes:

joan cronan was a part of the committee that picked hart. i don't see cronan doing anything to harm UT

Mama_Also_Calls_Me_Precious writes:

in response to cc623:

You just can't talk "trash" to your boss and expect to keep a job simple as that.She pretty much went out of her way to push the envelope and got the ax.Reminds me of the old saying:"you keep on campaigning and you're gonna get elected".

Mr.Hart is in a tough spot and people lose their jobs,it happens daily with this economy.All the more reason to just do your job and keep the complaining to yourself and obviously CPS has never needed anyone to fight her battles for her.Pretty tacky to drag her into this mess in the first place if she was supposed to be a friend.

I understand where your coming from, but if Hart forced Summit out prematurely and unfairly, and there is discrimination going on at the university, then Jennings has every right to file a lawsuit and she should!! As far as Summit fighting battles herself, maybe she is staying quiet because she needs to protect Holly, who could also be at the mercy of Hart if she pursues any kind of legal action against UT. Besides CPS is a woman of high integrity and would never allow herself to drop to the level of underhandedness that her former boss Hart is alledged of doing..

voloffaith writes:

Looks like Lil Debbie cakes has a new recipe and is cooking up a big ugly...shame these things can't be worked out "amicably". Wonder what Ms. Jennings definition of "amicably" sounds like....

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to Mama_Also_Calls_Me_Precious:

Or you could make the case that the reason CPS hasn't denied what Jennings is alledging is because it's true. And maybe another reason CPS has been quiet about all this is to protect Holly. I'm quite certain that CPS wanted Holly to follow her once she retired...Also, if you remember back to when all the mess came out about UCONN, CPS remained quiet about that as well, even though it was obvious that mr slime ball himself, geno a, committed major recruiting violations in order to land Maya Moore. CPS and Holly are people of high integrity and would rather put the University and the basketball team ahead of alledged heavy handed tactics by our new athletic director..

Witch Doctor say maybe we finally get some closure. Witch Doctor hoping it goes all the way so we finally get to confirm some things that went on in the AD dept. Witch Doctor popping pop corn to eat while this unfolds!
Bones never lie.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to usnavyvolfan__times_free_press_can_shove_it:

Heeeeeeeee's BACK! Good to hear from you again, Witchy!!

Witch Doctor crazy busy right now..Witch Doctor pop in and gone for week and then back..lol.
Bones never lie.
Good to chat with Vol fans always!

usnavyvolfan__times_free_press_can_shove_it writes:

in response to Mama_Also_Calls_Me_Precious:

Totally agree..My vote and I'm sure your vote and many other loyal Tennessee fans would love to see Fulmer come in and lead the Athletic dept. It would be sweet retribution for the way he was treated by the outside rat known as "Hammy"...

UT, unfortunately, HAS an athletic director right now. So it's not possible for Fulmer to have the job at this moment.
Please stop obsessing over the past.
I haven't read any of the publicized stuff released by UT; seems like there's not a whole lot to go off of right now. I am always wary when someone sues because of "discrimination" and wanting sensitivity training and all that garb. We are in the era of the big $ lawsuit, and while I realize that not all lawsuits are frivolous, I have that feeling with this one. I'll keep watching.

voloffaith writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say maybe we finally get some closure. Witch Doctor hoping it goes all the way so we finally get to confirm some things that went on in the AD dept. Witch Doctor popping pop corn to eat while this unfolds!
Bones never lie.

Film at eleven? I'm in south Carolina, but you will have this on ktown local 6pm news...oh boy...go debbie go......away...

Mama_Also_Calls_Me_Precious writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say maybe we finally get some closure. Witch Doctor hoping it goes all the way so we finally get to confirm some things that went on in the AD dept. Witch Doctor popping pop corn to eat while this unfolds!
Bones never lie.

Yes, I'm sure by the end of this trial we will get a much clearer picture of everything...

In the meantime I'm so ready for Lady Vol basketball and excited to see what Holly can do for this team. With the addition of Kyra Elzy and Law, Holly has got us great recruiting coaches AND great defensive coaches. Look for Lady Vols to be much more improved this year on defense!! Can't wait!!

GiveHim6TDTennessee writes:

Personally knowing Debby I will tell you this. She is a hard working, great lady who loves Pat and The University of Tennessee. She did her job perfectly to a "T" (no pun intended) every single day and was always nice to talk to. She expected the best out of herself and those around her. She loves Pat and UT very much and it's a shame it has come to this. I'm not saying I'm for or against her or UT, but I think she has a case and I think this will be interesting to watch play out. That is all.

FWBVol writes:

in response to Mama_Also_Calls_Me_Precious:

Nice observation there captain obvious..

The fact is that the women had a seperate athletic department from the men and Joan Cronan was in charge. That's who the boss should have been and should still be. Number 2, if it is true that Hart forced Summitt out, then he is slimy little rat and no better than that other rat Hammy. CPS give almost 40 years to this program, won an NCAA record amount of championships and oh just by the way, has the most wins of any women or men's basketball coach, active or retired. She earned the right to tell HIM when she was ready to retire, not the other way around. If it does come out that Hart did force Summitt out, true Lady Vol fans will not forgive him for this, other than fair weather fans like Gerry who don't give a ratz a hole about our most beloved coach in UT history..

You left out one important detail, Joan Cronan announced her intended retirement long before Dave Hart was hired. I don't know if this mess with Jennings would have gone down the same way if there had been someone other than Hart as the sitting AD, but you can't tell me Cronan should be in place.

I had some dealings with Jennings while I was the sports editor at the Daily Beacon and she came across to me as a bully that manipulated people.

If her allegation that Hart forced Pat Summitt out is true it is troublesome.

Jennings isn't the only person to lose their job since Dave Hart took over the combined athletic departments. There were some good men, John Painter for one, on the men's side that were downsized or whatever, who loves UT just as much as Jennings, but you don't see him shouting that he got the shaft.

chuckfromwoodberry writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

For once, I agree with you. If the grand plan was to merge the men's and women's athletic programs having an outsider do it was the way to go. But now that it has been accomplished I think Fulmer would be a no brainer choice to be AD if you you want true VFL's running the program. I have a problem with Fulmer in regards to the Majors fiasco but in the best interest of the program I really think this is the way to go. If, and I am saying IF, Hart did force Pat out the door and it can be proven, his time in Knoxville will be short.

NeylandWest writes:

If Pat was shown the door by Hart, and if this reaches trial, it'll be interesting to see what is said under oath b/c that's gonna be a whirlwind of hell for Hart. For now, I have to reserve judgment.

Mama_Also_Calls_Me_Precious writes:

in response to FWBVol:

You left out one important detail, Joan Cronan announced her intended retirement long before Dave Hart was hired. I don't know if this mess with Jennings would have gone down the same way if there had been someone other than Hart as the sitting AD, but you can't tell me Cronan should be in place.

I had some dealings with Jennings while I was the sports editor at the Daily Beacon and she came across to me as a bully that manipulated people.

If her allegation that Hart forced Pat Summitt out is true it is troublesome.

Jennings isn't the only person to lose their job since Dave Hart took over the combined athletic departments. There were some good men, John Painter for one, on the men's side that were downsized or whatever, who loves UT just as much as Jennings, but you don't see him shouting that he got the shaft.

Why would it be such a bad idea for Joan Cronan to still be AD?? Ok, maybe she was mean and maybe she was hard to work for, but that doesn't make her unfit for the job. While she was the AD for the womens side, she ran a tight ship and I can't recall any of her sports programs running into any major NCAA rules violations in the many years she was at the helm. And yes, I do have a problem with the way the men's and women's athletic departments were combined once Hart ws hired. I'm guessing it was a result of all the buyouts we are paying out for rat Hammy's trigger finger. Also, I don't recall Cronan ever announcing her retirement, until she was FORCED to retire when Hart took over as single Athletic Director of both the men and womens teams. Now, I can understand how you would harbor some ill will towards Cronan if she treated you the way you say. I know I'd be resentful of her too, but simply looking at it from a fan's point of view, I never had an issue with Cronan, seemed like she fully supported CPS and would never do what Hart is alledged of doing...

  • September 27, 2012
  • 5:56 p.m.
Cousin_Eddie writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Mama_Also_Calls_Me_Precious writes:

in response to Element_Days_Are_Over:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Hey now, womens basketball is so much more entertaining than watching dudes play. Of course my opinion may be biased, I grew as a small child watching the Lady Vols play. And I attend most every home game...

lemme_axya_this writes:

in response to FWBVol:

You left out one important detail, Joan Cronan announced her intended retirement long before Dave Hart was hired. I don't know if this mess with Jennings would have gone down the same way if there had been someone other than Hart as the sitting AD, but you can't tell me Cronan should be in place.

I had some dealings with Jennings while I was the sports editor at the Daily Beacon and she came across to me as a bully that manipulated people.

If her allegation that Hart forced Pat Summitt out is true it is troublesome.

Jennings isn't the only person to lose their job since Dave Hart took over the combined athletic departments. There were some good men, John Painter for one, on the men's side that were downsized or whatever, who loves UT just as much as Jennings, but you don't see him shouting that he got the shaft.

Did she shout that she got the shaft?

Munsterlander writes:

Disgusting, not surprising.

One can only hope for abject and humiliating failure with the lawsuit.

tovolny writes:

Something bad going on here. Pat Summitt, her son, her family, and her close friends know the real story. It is time for Hart to call a press conference and state his side of the story. IF HE FORCED PAT TO STEP DOWN, THEN FOLKS, HART MUST GO. We don't need an Athletic Director, anyway. The position was created so that a good head coach could assume the position and get paid more. Just let the Head Coaches report directly to the Chancellor Cheek position. The way it is now, a college AD has the best job ever. Lots of pay, no real responsibility. The only better job that I can think of is being Tiger Wood's butler...now that would be better than being Tiger Woods.

Mama_Also_Calls_Me_Precious writes:

in response to Element_Days_Are_Over:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

That may be true for the WNBA, but as far as wcbb is concerned, it's quite popular and continues to grow. Your starting to see a growing parity in wcbb that before was only controlled by a few select teams, Tennessee included. And right now, Tennessee Lady Vol basketball is about the ONLY popular sport Tennessee is having great success in..

Vol1983 writes:

in response to tovolny:

Something bad going on here. Pat Summitt, her son, her family, and her close friends know the real story. It is time for Hart to call a press conference and state his side of the story. IF HE FORCED PAT TO STEP DOWN, THEN FOLKS, HART MUST GO. We don't need an Athletic Director, anyway. The position was created so that a good head coach could assume the position and get paid more. Just let the Head Coaches report directly to the Chancellor Cheek position. The way it is now, a college AD has the best job ever. Lots of pay, no real responsibility. The only better job that I can think of is being Tiger Wood's butler...now that would be better than being Tiger Woods.

Jimmy Cheek has always been the root of all the problems at UT. The trustees need to man-up and run this incompetent clown off the campus.

Razor784 writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Definitely agree, if this clown, who's been here no time, fired the legend who's put her heart and soul into UT for so long, then he should be fired right now.

tovolny writes:

in response to Vol1983:

Jimmy Cheek has always been the root of all the problems at UT. The trustees need to man-up and run this incompetent clown off the campus.

Notice I said:"Chancellor Cheek POSITION."

Wonder why we never hear anything from the UT President. He must be a pretty cool dude...he dodges all rotten fruit thrown toward the university. We do, NOW, have a president...right?

tennrich1 writes:

I have literally laughed out loud reading the article and commments....Do you realize everybody, and I mean everybody, associated with the university has been blamed for something here??....Hey, people are let go all the time...its the world we live in...while some are filing lawsuits others are just wishing to get a glimpse of work in this wretched economy we are now in....

Vol1983 writes:

in response to tovolny:

Notice I said:"Chancellor Cheek POSITION."

Wonder why we never hear anything from the UT President. He must be a pretty cool dude...he dodges all rotten fruit thrown toward the university. We do, NOW, have a president...right?

Jimmy Cheek and the UT Pres are tight. Who do you think pushed for him to be the Pres?

thevoice writes:

Wonder how the bank account is doing these days.

BigOrangeFever76 (Inactive) writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Walt, why don't you, Flowers, and Jennings get a room? She is more of a man than you and Flowers put together...literally and physically.

vol98champ writes:

When I was "outsourced" by my employer of 26 years so my high profile sales territory could be taken over by a female, I turned the territory over to her and wished her well. When did employees get so much power or assume they have so much power? Tennessee fans and a mad woman seem to be determined to ruin the University.

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