Ex-media guru sues UT over so called 'forced retirement"

Ex-Lady Vols media guru sues UT over so called 'forced retirement'

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Debby Jennings (source: utladyvols.com) Debby Jennings (source: utladyvols.com)

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Debby Jennings, former associate athletics director for media relations at the University of Tennessee, has already gone public with her claim that she was forced to retire. Now she's taking the issue to court.

6 News received a copy of the lawsuit Thursday that was filed in U.S. District Court. It was filed against the University of Tennessee and Athletics Director Dave Hart.

The document is 41-pages long. Much of it details UT's history with women's athletics and the career of Jennings, who spent nearly 40 years there as a student and later an employee.

Jennings left UT in May and contends she was forced out at the time. She gave the university an option, to seek what she called an amicable solution and gave 10 days for UT to respond.

A day later, Hart fired back saying he gave Jennings the option to retire. In a statement at that time, Hart called Jennings insubordinate and disrespectful.

In Jennings' lawsuit, she claims a culture of intimidation existed in the UT Athletics Department.

She also claims the recent consolidation of the UT men's and women's athletics departments had an adverse impact on female employees.

Jennings claims during the consolidation process, younger males were hired by the athletics department.

She also says during that time, according to the lawsuit, no women were hired and placed in comparable leadership positions.

Jennings says ,embers of the department, including Hart, fostered a culture of intimidation and hostility.

She's asking for a jury trial and wants unspecified compensatory damages and an injunction to rectify what she says are Title IX violations at UT.

In what might be the most startling aspect of the lawsuit, Jennings claims Pat Summitt's departure as Lady Vols head basketball coach was Hart's decision.

She claims in March, Hart told Summitt she would not be the head coach at Tennessee after last season. Jennings says Summitt was "upset and extremely hurt."

In regards to those claims about Summitt, UT Vice Chancellor for Communications Margie Nichols said Thursday in a statement, "It is absolutely not true. It was Pat's idea to become head coach emeritus and she made that clear at her press conference earlier this year."

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