In June 1997, a former women’s assistant volleyball coach was awarded $150,000 in a discrimination lawsuit against the University of Tennessee.
Sixteen years later, the story has been thrust into the spotlight. Its antagonist, former Lady Vols coach Julie Hermann, is the center of an ongoing hailstorm of controversy as the maligned new athletic director at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
On Thursday, the News Sentinel received UT’s court files on the case through an open records request.
The 1,000-plus pages of depositions, motions and memorandums clarify the claims of Ginger Hineline, who contended that she was discriminated against by Hermann and then-Lady Vols athletic director Joan Cronan for becoming pregnant, and include Hermann acknowledging a 1994 incident in which she caused her players to have “their feelings hurt.”
Hermann, Tennessee’s coach from 1991-96, was introduced as Rutgers’ new athletic director on May 15.
Inquiries surrounding her past and a story last weekend by The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., citing 15 former Lady Vols detailing verbal and emotional abuse during her coaching tenure turned Hermann’s once-celebrated hiring into a chronicled and critiqued calamity.
In a 368-page deposition dated Aug. 26-27, 1996, for Hineline’s lawsuit, Hermann categorically denies
her former assistant’s firing being a result of pregnancy. She’s stuck to that claim since being hired at Rutgers.
Hermann testified that she, Hineline and a third assistant coach, Kim Tibbetts (formerly Kim Zenner), “talked extensively” about having children and “I think we all conceded that for each, you know, when we’re going to do that, it’ll be difficult.”
“I don’t remember saying anything verbatim to her that she can’t,” Hermann said in the deposition. “I know that I did not say anything to her saying you can’t have a baby and do this job.”
Hineline was told that she would be terminated on Jan. 25, 1995. The firing came at Cronan’s request and was carried out by Hermann. Both testified and still contend today that it was due to poor performance and “an accumulation (of incidents) that just kept snowballing,” Hermann testified.
When asked about the suit during her introductory news conference at Rutgers, Hermann noted that she’s overseen employees for 25 years and said, “It was litigated although I do not believe in the outcome,” and responded, “I’m not familiar with that” when asked about Hineline’s claim that she was told not to become pregnant.
In her 1996 testimony, Hermann detailed “increased tension” between her and Hineline in 1994. She acknowledged that it was due to Hineline’s constant focus on wedding planning and starting a family.
“Ginger had come to me in June when her and David got back from the honeymoon saying they wanted to have a child and said, ‘You know, I want to (do) this,’ and I said, ‘That’s between you, God and David; go make your own decision.’ And that was it. It didn’t need to be discussed anymore as far as I was concerned,” Hermann testified.
Hineline ultimately won the lawsuit in U.S. District Court and was awarded $50,000 for back pay, $50,000 in additional pay and $50,000 for compensatory damages, in addition to legal fees.
UT was denied a motion for retrial in July 1997. U.S. District Judge Robert P. Murrian cited a total lack of paperwork from UT chronicling Hineline’s job performance and a note penned by Cronan praising Hineline two weeks before firing her.
Much of the storm surrounding Rutgers’ hiring of Hermann is the circumstance. Former basketball coach Mike Rice was fired and athletic director Tim Pernetti was forced to resign in the spring after video surfaced of Rice physically and verbally abusing his players.
Upon hiring Hermann from the University of Louisville, Rutgers President Robert Barchi lauded the 15-year administrator as holding “a commitment to the university’s core values (and) a deep concern for our student athletes.”
Then The Star-Ledger published its scathing investigative story stating that 15 former Lady Vols claimed she coached at UT using “humiliation, fear and emotional abuse.”
Hermann has since refuted the report and others have come to her aid.
In discussing Hineline’s ability to work as a liaison between head coach and players, Hermann recounted misspeaking during a postgame speech following a 1994 loss to Alabama.
“The players took offense to that, and that one issue was pretty burned in their mind from the beginning of October towards the end of October.”
Asked how she misspoke, Hermann replied, “Somewhere in there I apparently made comment that made (redacted) feel that (redacted) they were illegitimate children or something like that, which was not at all anything that I thought at any time, and they got their feelings hurt.”
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.