Jennings files lawsuit against UT, Hart

A lawsuit filed in Knoxville against the University of Tennessee and Athletic Director Dave Hart alleges "unlawful discrimination and retaliation," and because it raises issues under Title VII and Title IX, the case has been submitted to the jurisdiction of U.S. District Court.

The lawsuit, which was filed Thursday by attorney David A. Burkhalter II on behalf of his client, Deborah K. Jennings, consists of 41 pages and 11 exhibits and the opening reads as a history of Lady Vol sports at Tennessee.

Jennings was forced to retire last May after serving as 35 years as the chief of media relations for the Lady Vols and Pat Summitt, who stepped down last April after 38 years as the head coach of the women's basketball program.

The allegation that Athletic Director Dave Hart forced out Summitt in a conversation in March was made public last May and is contained in the federal lawsuit, which states that Hart met with Summitt the day before the team left for Chicago to open play in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

The lawsuit alleges that Hart told Summitt that she would not coach the 2012-13 season and that Holly Warlick, then the associate head coach, would be named to the position. The lawsuit states that Summitt told her secretary, her personal administrative assistant, an assistant coach and Jennings about the conversation.

"When Coach Summitt told (Jennings) of Mr. Hart's conversation, Coach Summitt was very upset and extremely hurt," the lawsuit states.

Tennessee addressed that allegation Thursday through spokeswoman Margie Nichols.

"That is absolutely not true," Nichols told Inside Tennessee. "It was Pat's decision to become the head coach emeritus. She made it clear at the press conference that it was her decision. That is the truth."

The lawsuit in its entirety can be read by CLICKING HERE

The lawsuit was filed in federal court because its allegations fall under Title IX (gender equity) and Title VII (retaliation) laws. A complaint also has been filed with the EEOC, and Tennessee would have been sent a notice of that complaint.

Some key statements made in the lawsuit include:

That the careers of Jennings and other female employees in the athletics department "took a turn for the worse under Chris Fuller (senior associate athletic director), Jimmy Stanton (associate athletic director for communications) and Dave Hart" during the consolidation of the men's and women's departments and that Jennings was denied opportunities due to gender and/or age and eventually "stripped of her duties and responsibilities."

That Women's Athletics Director Joan Cronan, whose contract ran through June 30, 2012, was "marginalized" when Hart took over Sept. 5, 2011.

That the layoffs of April 13, 2012, disproportionally affected women, who accounted for 12 (80 percent) of the 15 positions that were eliminated in the Athletics Department.

That of the eight executive staff positions within the department, seven were male and one was female, and that position is required by the NCAA to be occupied by a woman.

That of the 15 staff members that comprise the senior administrative staff under Hart, 13 (86.7 percent) are male and two are female.

That of the 23 combined executive and senior administrative staff members, 20 (87 percent) are male, three (13 percent) are female and none are African-American.

That during the consolidation process, which preceded Hart, Jennings raised issues about the diminished use of the Lady Vols logo, which was being "pushed aside by the male leadership," and several renovations of the men's basketball locker room without any improvement to the women's locker room.

That when the position of associate athletic director for communications was open in 2010, Jennings was told by Fuller, her direct supervisor, that football coach Derek Dooley "did not want to work with a female." The lawsuit noted that Jennings didn't know "if this was Dooley's requirement or Chris Fuller's," but it rose to the level of sex discrimination. Four males interviewed for the position.

That when the job for assistant athletic director for media relations came open in 2011, Jennings was told by Stanton that she would not be considered for the post.

That when Hart joined the Lady Vols basketball team in Chicago for the NCAA tourney, he was "visibly hostile" to Jennings, who had emailed him earlier and asked that he reconsider Summitt's status as coach, because the action discriminated against her under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). The lawsuit alleges Hart asked for Jennings' resignation in May in retaliation for her opposition to the decision.

That media relations employees who had worked with Jennings were told to not talk to Jennings or their "loyalty to U.T. would be questioned."

That when Hart was an athletic administrator at East Carolina, he hosted Miller Lite tailgate parties that featured co-ed "Bikini Contests" and that Hart discriminated against women at Florida State and Alabama in his capacity there within the athletics departments.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages, reasonable attorney fees and a jury trial. The lawsuit also asks that Hart, Fuller and Stanton undergo diversity, Title IX and ethics training.

Tennessee must still review the lawsuit and thus will have no additional comment at this time. Jennings referred all media questions to her lawyer.

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