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