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Associate women’s head golf coach Katie Brenny may take the first steps in filing a lawsuit against the University of Minnesota over allegations of discrimination this week, her lawyer said.
The suit could shine light on why Brenny was disallowed from speaking to players about golf, traveling with the team or recruiting off-campus during her brief tenure.
Brenny resigned in late October after just two months on the job. Her lawyer, Donald Mark Jr., said any lawsuit would allege "a violation of several Minnesota statutes, which would include discrimination based upon creating a hostile work environment; discrimination, retaliation and harassment; and discrimination concerning sexual preference."
Brenny is openly gay and has a female partner. When asked if the alleged discrimination involved director of golf John Harris not allowing Brenny to coach after learning she was gay, Mark said, "I think that’s accurate."
"We’re still developing information and the facts surrounding all of this," Mark said. "It appears to us that there was discrimination occurring, and that seems to be the only logical explanation as to why he acted in the manner in which he does."
University general counsel Mark Rotenberg said his office has been in discussions with Mark for about a month, and as always, Rotenberg hopes to avoid litigation.
"We’re hopeful that we can adjust whatever claims she has here, but we do not believe the University’s director of golf engaged in any unlawful actions," Rotenberg said.
University officials, including Athletics Director Joel Maturi, are not commenting on Brenny’s resignation because of a policy about discussing ongoing personnel matters.
The Minnesota Daily reported Wednesday that, according to multiple sources closely connected with the golf program, Harris’ son-in-law and former caddy, Ernie Rose, acted as the head coach of the women’s team while Harris relegated Brenny to paperwork and a mentorship role with players.
Rose wasn’t eligible for a head coaching position because he didn’t have a bachelor’s degree, required of all University professional and administrative employees. Rose was an assistant coach last season under then-director of golf Brad James, and Harris promoted him to "Director of Instruction" when he took over this summer.
A YouTube video posted by the athletics department Nov. 5 expressly labeled Rose as "Women’s Golf Head Coach." The department re-uploaded the video Dec. 1, the day of the Daily’s report, with the label "Director of Instruction."
Brenny’s only comment for the Daily report was, "There’s more to this story."
Given the facts presented in the report, the motives for Harris’ actions are not immediately clear. Even if he wanted Rose as head coach, NCAA rules allow two coaches to travel to events, so she could have accompanied the team as an assistant.
Because golf operates as a combined program, NCAA rules allow for four paid coaches, which would have allowed Brenny to interact with players about golf. Brenny came in with no coaching experience, and if Harris wanted to bring her along slowly, it’s not clear why he wouldn’t want her helping players with golf or assisting Rose on the road.
"I can’t disclose the extent of our discoveries at this point," Mark said, "but I will tell you we intend to press forward with the lawsuit and we believe we have sufficient facts to support the allegations that will be in that lawsuit regarding discrimination."
If Mark does bring the lawsuit, it’ll be the second high-profile athletics case between him and Rotenberg this year.
Mark represented basketball coach Jimmy Williams in his case against Tubby Smith this spring, when Williams alleged that Smith misrepresented his hiring power in offering him an assistant coaching spot. Smith rescinded the offer after finding out about recruiting violations in Williams’ past, but after Williams had resigned at Oklahoma State and put his house up for sale.
A jury awarded Williams a $1.25 million verdict, later reduced to $1 million.
"If Brenny chooses to file litigation against the University, then we’re prepared to defend those claims," Rotenberg said.
"There’ll be more we can say about them if she chooses to file them. But I don’t want to assume this person is going to be suing the University of Minnesota. I’m always hoping people will not sue."
Related: Sources: Golf coach didn't get a shot (12/1/2010)