Ex-Lady Vols media director, Tennessee settle suit

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former Lady Vols media director Debby Jennings has reached a $320,000 settlement in her lawsuit against the University of Tennessee and athletic director Dave Hart.

Jennings' lawyer, David Burkhalter, released a statement Thursday that said the parties had "reached an amicable settlement" and noted the amount. The lawsuit, filed in September 2012, alleged age and sex discrimination had led to Jennings' forced retirement after 35 years at the university.

"I am hopeful my lawsuit has cast some light on some of the inequities that I and others experienced in the combined UT athletics department," Jennings said in a statement released by Burkhalter. "My sincere desire is that my university will strive to bridge the gap in the disparity of the number of women and minorities in leadership roles within the (athletic department)."

Jennings also said she looks "forward to a positive relationship with my university in the years to come."

The university and Jennings issued a joint statement saying "the parties have agreed that it is in the best interests of all concerned to put this dispute behind them." The joint statement also said "the university acknowledges the substantial contributions Ms. Jennings made to the University and the Lady Vols during her 35 years of service."

According to a copy of the settlement released by the university, the settlement includes $116,396 for attorneys' fees, $30,540.58 to be paid to Jennings as alleged wage-based damages and $173,063.42 to be paid to Jennings for alleged pain and suffering.

The suit had been scheduled to go to trial on April 27, 2015.

Jennings' suit alleged that Hart and other athletic officials wanted to remodel the athletic department as a "good ol' boys" club while replacing her with a younger man. Jennings was 57 years old when she left her job in May 2012 as the university worked toward consolidating the men's and women's athletic departments.

The suit also argued Hart retaliated against Jennings when she protested that Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt's diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease protected her from losing her job under the Americans With Disabilities Act. It indicated Jennings was forced out for opposing what she perceived as discriminatory actions taken by Hart against Summitt.

After announcing her diagnosis in August 2011, Summitt retired after the season. She released a statement in October 2012 saying it was her decision to step down. She remains part of the staff as head coach emeritus after leading the Lady Vols to eight national titles.

The settlement notes that "this agreement is not an admission of liability" and that the university and Hart deny the allegations by Jennings.

"Now that Debby has reached an amicable settlement, we hope that the public attention that has been brought by the suit to the disparity of women and minorities in leadership roles in the University of Tennessee athletic department will be addressed, and the suit will be a vehicle for positive change in the athletic department," Burkhalter said in a statement. "Debby wants to thank all of her friend and supporters who stood with her during this difficult time in her life, and she is hopeful that others will find it in their hearts to accept her back into the UT family."

Tennessee still faces another discrimination lawsuit from former director of sports medicine Jenny Moshak and ex-Lady Vols strength coaches Heather Mason and Collin Schlosser. The plaintiffs say they performed similar tasks as employees who held similar positions for men's teams, but that they received less compensation either because of their gender or due to their association with women's teams.

That suit has a trial date of June 23, 2015.

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