KNOXVILLE — Former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt won’t be called to testify in her former spokeswoman’s federal job discrimination lawsuit and probably isn’t competent to testify anyway, an attorney said Thursday in U.S. District Court.
According to former Lady Vols spokeswoman Debby Jennings, she lost her job when she took up for Summitt when Summitt believed she was being forced to retire due to a diagnosis of early onset dementia.
Her attorney David Burkhalter told U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Guyton at a hearing Thursday morning that only two people may really know the truth about Summitt’s retirement discussions before she stepped down: Summitt herself and UT athletic director Dave Hart, who met privately to discuss the topic.
“Are you going to seek the deposition of Pat Summitt?” Guyton said.
“We don’t know that she’s competent,” Burkhalter said. “We’re not going to put her through being forced to testify even if Debby Jennings loses this case. That’s why we want these records.”
The University of Tennessee is seeking to prohibit “extrajudicial use or disclosure” of documents and information developed as Jennings goes about collecting information and preparing his care for Jennings, who is suing UT and Hart. Burkhalter has argued information about Summitt and the circumstances of her retirement as head coach are important to his client’s case.
Guyton said he’d issue a ruling at an unspecified time.
Jennings claims Hart forced her out in 2012 after Summitt disclosed her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Jennings, who spent 35 years as Lady Vols media director, says she spoke up against “unlawful actions” against Summitt.
Summitt stepped down in April 2012 after 38 seasons to become head coach emeritus for the Lady Vols. She announced in August 2011 that she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
Jennings’ suit contends her opposition to Hart’s treatment of Summitt was a factor in Hart’s decision to give Jennings the choice during a May 15, 2012, meeting to be fired for “insubordination,” resign or retire.
Hart says in court records he met with Summitt in March 2012 and gave her the option to continue coaching or retire. Jennings’ suit says when Pat Summitt told Jennings about the conversation with Hart that Summitt was “very upset and extremely hurt.”
Two days later, Summitt issued a statement intended to clarify “some misunderstandings.” Summitt said she wasn’t forced out as head coach and that it was “entirely my decision” to step down.
Summitt’s son, Tyler, has said she apparently “misunderstood” the conversation with Hart.