Betty Bean reports on the latest development in Debby Jennings' suit against UT's Dave Hart:
A United States District Court ruling today gives former University of Tennessee Women's Athletics Director for Media Relations Debby Jennings the green light to continue her lawsuit against UT Athletics Director Dave Hart.
Jennings, who was Coach Pat Summitt's media relations chief for more than 35 years, said Hart summoned her to his office on May 15, 2012, accused her of insubordination, and gave her the choice to retire or be fired. She filed suit for wrongful termination and retaliation against UT and against Hart, individually, and also charged Hart with wrongfully aiding and abetting her termination. These actions were playing out in the wake of the consolidation of the men's and women's athletics department and Summitt's August, 2011 announcement that she has Alzheimer's Disease.
Hart asked the court to dismiss the claims against him as an individual, saying that he acted within the scope of his position as the university's agent, not on his own.
United States District Judge Karen Cardwell dismissed the "aiding and abetting" claim, but rejected Hart's motion to throw out the retaliation action, which allows the bulk of Jennings' suit to go forward.
"Plaintiff alleges that she sent an e-mail to Hart referencing her complaints about the consolidation of the athletic departments and what she perceived to be the unfair treatment of Coach Pat Summit. She further alleges she was subsequently marginalized and told she did not need to attend staff meetings. She states she was not informed she was 'insubordinate' until after her retirement. Construing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, Defendant Hart can be held individually liable for retaliation. A jury could conclude that he decided Plaintiff should be terminated because of her complaints about discrimination," Cardwell said.
The most explosive allegation in Jennings' lawsuit is that Hart pressured Summitt to retire prior to her handing over her coach's whistle to former assistant Holly Warlick last year.
The lawsuit also says that by the time she was forced out of her job, Jennings had no employees reporting to her, no budgetary responsibilities, and that her few remaining duties were assigned to a male after she was dismissed.
Jennings asked for a jury trial; compensatory and liquidated damages; and for Hart, Senior Associate Athletics Director for Development Chris Fuller, and Associate Athletics Director for Communications Jimmy Stanton to undergo diversity and ethics training.
Cardwell is also presiding over a separate discrimination lawsuit filed by three former Lady Vols' employees: former trainer Jenny Moshak, strength and conditioning coach Heather Mason, and assistant strength and conditioning coach Collin Schlosser.