Court rules Debby Jennings can pursue claim of retaliation against UT AD Dave Hart

In this file photo Debby Jennings, the former University of Tennessee Lady Vols Associate Athletics Director for Media Relations, stands for a portrait at the Stokely Athletic Center in June 2009. A lawyer for Jennings said the former longtime University of Tennessee employee was offered the choice on May 15, 2012 to be fired, resign or retire by athletic director Dave Hart for 'insubordination.' (Amy Smotherman Burgess/Knoxville News Sentinel)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

In this file photo Debby Jennings, the former University of Tennessee Lady Vols Associate Athletics Director for Media Relations, stands for a portrait at the Stokely Athletic Center in June 2009. A lawyer for Jennings said the former longtime University of Tennessee employee was offered the choice on May 15, 2012 to be fired, resign or retire by athletic director Dave Hart for "insubordination." (Amy Smotherman Burgess/Knoxville News Sentinel)

A federal court ruled Thursday that former Tennessee women’s sports information director Debby Jennings could pursue claims of retaliation against athletic director Dave Hart as part of her lawsuit charging the university with gender and age discrimination.

But U.S. District Judge Karen K. Caldwell granted Hart’s motion to be dismissed from claims that he aided and abetted discrimination.

Jennings, who spent more than 35 years as the primary media contact for Lady Vols sports, sued UT and Hart last September, claiming she was forced to retire because of her age and gender and in retaliation for her complaints about discrimination in the athletic department.

Hart moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that he was acting as an agent of the University of Tennessee and could not be held individually responsible.

The court granted part of Hart’s motion, accepting that his role as athletic director included firing employees and that Jennings had failed to show “affirmative conduct” of discrimination distinct from his role as a supervisor.

But the court denied Hart’s motion to dismiss Jennings’ claim of retaliation, allowing that part of her suit against Hart to go forward.

“A jury could conclude that (Hart) decided (Jennings) should be terminated because of her complaints about discrimination,” wrote Caldwell.

David Burkhalter II, who is representing Jennings, said the next step in the case is pre-trial discovery.

“Ms. Jennings is pleased with the court’s ruling and looks forward to her day in court,” he said.

UT spokeswoman Margie Nichols said neither the university nor Hart would comment about the ongoing lawsuit.

The judge has not yet set a trial date.

Three UT athletic department employees filed a related lawsuit against UT last October alleging gender discrimination. The plaintiffs — Heather Mason, an associate strength and conditioning coach; Jenny Moshak, associate AD for sports medicine; and Collin Schlosser, who was associate AD for women’s strength and conditioning — alleged that members of the men’s athletic department received better wages than women’s athletic department personnel for comparable jobs. All of the plaintiffs are no longer employed by UT. Schlosser was laid off in 2012. Mason was relieved of her duties last April. Moshak retired last month over what she described as “issues of equality.”

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee athletics. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

Related document: Court Denies Hart’s Motion to be Dismissed from Jennings suit

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Comments » 22

IndianOutlaw writes:

I hope she gets what she deserves.

slb1zellwood#1421797 writes:

They need to call Morgan and Morgan they are ambulance chasers big time but never doubt they ARE FOR THE PEOPLE as long as they can line their pockets.

vut5686#1405392 writes:

This is interesting reporting. The headline reads, "The court rules Debbie....can pursue.....;" It could just as equitably and correctly state: "Court rules Hart did not....bias and discrimination."

In fact, the court disagreed with both and agreed with both on some points. A headline reader will not conclude that from this headline.

Oh well; that is the KNS sports department for you.

TNlogfire writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

underthehill writes:

in response to IndianOutlaw:

I hope she gets what she deserves.

and I hope Hart gets what he deserves..and I think he will..I think the facts in this case are clear..Hart was offended when Jennings took up for Pat after she was dismissed by Hart..Hart then called another meeting with Pat and claimed there was a misunderstanding and gave Pat a sweetheart deal..Jennings stood up for her friend Pat..now will Pat stand up for Jennings ..I don't think she has to..the document she signed re: the first meeting with Hart should take care of that...

CannonVol writes:

in response to vut5686#1405392:

This is interesting reporting. The headline reads, "The court rules Debbie....can pursue.....;" It could just as equitably and correctly state: "Court rules Hart did not....bias and discrimination."

In fact, the court disagreed with both and agreed with both on some points. A headline reader will not conclude that from this headline.

Oh well; that is the KNS sports department for you.

Actually, the headline is somewhat more accurate than your proposed revision. To make your suggestion completely accurate you would have to add the phrase, in his individual capacity. What the court said was that, if AD Hart acted with bias and discrimination, it was in his official capacity, thus leaving the university facing a claim of bias and discrimination, as well as a claim of retaliation. As an individual AD Hart now only faces a claim that his actions that resulted in her departure from the university were in retaliation for her otherwise legal actions.

rainbow6 writes:

Good for you Ms Jennings . I hope they fire the jerk just as he deserves.
He is a disgrace to the University and an embarrassment to his profession.

CheshireDog writes:

There was NO good reason to dismantle the Women's athletic departments. How about dropping all the men's advocates and run Athletics from the Women's side. They have many more National Trophies than the men.

Too far, too fast. Shame on Hart. Special Shame on Mike Hamilton. Shame on UT for giving Hamilton a $1,600,000 - uncalled for going away gift. Shame on those who put Fulmer thru the public hanging with part of the season left....he deserved better for the 30 or so years he gave UT.

TNlogfire writes:

Wow...the John Goodman analogy did not go over well....

TNlogfire writes:

The truth hurts sometimes, evidently...Hamilton pretty much screwed up everything, no denying...but changes had to be made..lying about your point will never help anything.

rainbow6 writes:

Also.. We have not yet heard the results of a lawsuit that was brought against Hart by Bud Ford. Ford was an employee of the athletic department for more than 40 years .There is something very wrong when long time employees leave and each one accuses the same person of wrong doing.

Vol1968 writes:

Get ready to pay again UT.

Snapshot writes:

I'll just be glad when it is settled, one way or another, so we won't have to look at her picture anymore. She needs to get over it, the athletics departments were finally combined like other schools across the country were years ago, some jobs were cut, and hers was one of them. But NOOOO, she has to claim discrimination and sue because she lost her cushy job. Welcome to the real world, baby.

volnsc writes:

in response to Vol1968:

Get ready to pay again UT.

Believe you might be right. At least some payment will likely be forthcoming. As I have said before, where there is smoke....... It's a new age and the good ole boy, men's club not longer prevails. UT can't afford to present itself as stuck in the past.

johndavid writes:

She deserves the same as Arian Foster, nothing more. They were both blessed to be part of UT athletics. Maybe I could sue for not been given a scholarship or every trainer could sue that didn't make as much as the lucky ones at UT. Everybody that ever loss a job should sue. I'd like to sue UT for paying them that much $ and charging so much for tickets. They should be sued for wasting taxpayer / donor/ticket etc $ on non revenue sports salaries and letting coaches like Chavis, Cutliffe, Garner,Graham etc go when a little more $ would have kept them here and produced alot more revenue by winning.

johndavid writes:

Could Hart not just submit the above picture and win the case?

IndianOutlaw writes:

in response to underthehill:

and I hope Hart gets what he deserves..and I think he will..I think the facts in this case are clear..Hart was offended when Jennings took up for Pat after she was dismissed by Hart..Hart then called another meeting with Pat and claimed there was a misunderstanding and gave Pat a sweetheart deal..Jennings stood up for her friend Pat..now will Pat stand up for Jennings ..I don't think she has to..the document she signed re: the first meeting with Hart should take care of that...

You seem to know a lot about this case. Wow you must be an insider with an ax to grind against the school. Come forth and give the truth to the media. I'm all for that. And as I said before I hope she gets what she deserves. That that any way you wish.

underthehill writes:

I seem to know only as much as anyone who bothers to read available information such as the court documents that were made available on line..now if you are not interested enough to be informed ..why are you making uninformed comments..

IndianOutlaw writes:

in response to underthehill:

I seem to know only as much as anyone who bothers to read available information such as the court documents that were made available on line..now if you are not interested enough to be informed ..why are you making uninformed comments..

I just stated I hoped she got what she deserved. Nothing more nothing less. It is you not I who wants to make something more of my simple statement. I wish the same for all of us. You and I included.

underthehill writes:

in response to johndavid:

She deserves the same as Arian Foster, nothing more. They were both blessed to be part of UT athletics. Maybe I could sue for not been given a scholarship or every trainer could sue that didn't make as much as the lucky ones at UT. Everybody that ever loss a job should sue. I'd like to sue UT for paying them that much $ and charging so much for tickets. They should be sued for wasting taxpayer / donor/ticket etc $ on non revenue sports salaries and letting coaches like Chavis, Cutliffe, Garner,Graham etc go when a little more $ would have kept them here and produced alot more revenue by winning.

Everybody that ever loss a job should sue..makes about as much sense as your entire comment..if you knew anything about court proceedings you would know anyone could sue but they would have to prove damages to prevail in the case..so if you feel you can prove damages in court that were unjustly caused by another party..such as UT..have at it..

Snapshot writes:

in response to johndavid:

Could Hart not just submit the above picture and win the case?

Too funny! Maybe he should try it.

johndavid writes:

in response to underthehill:

Everybody that ever loss a job should sue..makes about as much sense as your entire comment..if you knew anything about court proceedings you would know anyone could sue but they would have to prove damages to prevail in the case..so if you feel you can prove damages in court that were unjustly caused by another party..such as UT..have at it..

I would hope that we all already knew what you explained to us. Maybe you think that is high level knowledge/ thinking. I made an A in my law class at UT , BUT DIDN'T need that class for such simple information. Hopefully she will only win $ if something has taken place we don't know about that is very wrong. Point being I've probably been damaged just as much as here without the good fortune UT athletics brought her for years!

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