Former Lady Vols Media Director Debby Jennings has
filed suit against Tennessee claiming the school discriminated against her
based on age and gender. She claims other athletic department officials wanted
to replace her with a younger man. She
also claims Athletic Director Dave Hart forced legendary women’s basketball
coach Pat Summit to step down at the end of last season.
In the lawsuit, Jennings alleges Hart met with her
and gave her three hours to choose whether to step down, retire, or be fired.
She additionally claims she lost her job as retaliation for her advocacy of
gender issues, including opposing discrimination against female
student-athletes and speaking out regarding university-wide discrimination. She
claims the athletic department was governed with a policy of “hostility and
intimidation”. The athletic department was in the process of merging the men’s
and women’s departments, and as part of the consolidation laid off 15
employees- 12 of whom were female.
In general, the Tennessee athletic department is a
male-dominated environment, with only three women filling the many
executive-level positions across the department (though this probably isn’t
surprising at a major SEC football school).
Hart maintains that he was forced to dismiss Jennings because of her
continued insubordination, which fostered an attitude of “negativity and
division” throughout the department.
Jennings’ case was filed last Thursday before
the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, so it will take
some time for the facts to come to light. Regardless, it seems Tennessee has
created an inhospitable environment for women in their athletic department,
despite the school boasting one of the country’s best women’s basketball