Derek Howard

Bev Kearney, former women’s track and field head coach, filed a lawsuit against the University alleging discrimination based on her race and her gender Thursday, according to her attorney, Derek Howard.

Kearney resigned in January after being told the University was prepared to fire her for a having a consensual relationship in 2002 with Raasin McIntosh, who was a student-athlete on Kearney’s team.

In her lawsuit — which seeks more than $1 million — Kearney said Bubba Thornton, former men’s track and field head coach, consistently demeaned her in front of others and falsely accused her of committing NCAA infractions.

The lawsuit points fingers at a wide range of University officials who Kearney claims she reported the harassment incidents to and chose to do nothing about it. The list includes men’s and women’s head athletic directors DeLoss Dodds and Chris Plonsky, Jody Conradt, former women’s head athletic director, Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for legal affairs, Gregory Vincent, vice president of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and individuals in the human resources department.

"The University of Texas will thoroughly review the unfounded allegations of Ms. Kearney's lawsuit and respond through proper legal channels," Ohlendorf said in a statement.

The lawsuit also alleges that other University employees — predominately white males — have been involved in relationships with students or direct subordinates and have not received any disciplinary action. It cites the University’s handling of an incident with football co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite as an example. Applewhite engaged in “inappropriate, consensual behavior with an adult student” in 2009, according to a letter from Dodds obtained by The Daily Texan through the Texas Public Information Act in February of this year. Applewhite’s salary was suspended for a year following the incident, but he has since received promotions and raises.

"When the university reviews inappropriate behavior by its employees, each case is evaluated on its individual facts," Ohlendorf said in a statement. "In this case, it was evident that Ms. Kearney displayed a serious lack of judgment by having an inappropriate, intimate, long-term relationship with a member of her team. The team member later reported it to university officials who pursued all appropriate action."

Kearney took the helm of the women’s track and field program in 1992, and her teams have won six NCAA championships.

Kearney was placed on administrative leave by the University almost exactly one year ago after McIntosh revealed her past relationship with her coach to officials in UT athletics. Since then, much has changed in the department. Thornton announced his retirement in June and Dodds plans to step down in August. The UT System Board of Regents voted to approve Steve Patterson, the newly hired men's head athletic director, Monday.

Bev Kearney, former women’s track and field coach, is alleging she was “singled out and treated differently” than her male, non-African American counterparts, according to her filed complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission.

“I believe that I was subjected to a severely hostile work environment and constructively discharged by forcing me to resign in lieu of being fired because of my race, color and gender,” Kearney said in the complaint.

In her complaint, Kearney alleges she was publicly demeaned and falsely accused of NCAA violations by Bubba Thornton, men’s track and field head coach; she was harassed and her complaints were ignored by administrators; she was not given salary raises granted to other coaches; and she was told she was being fired for violating an “unwritten” policy, despite colleagues not receiving the same treatment for similar acts.

Kearney’s attorney, Derek Howard, said he filed the complaint March 12 with the “Civil Rights and Discrimination Division” of the Texas Workforce Commission. The commission has 180 days to investigate the complaint after which Kearney has a right to sue. 

“Coach Kearney’s allegations of discrimination will be reviewed thoroughly and responded to according to [the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] and Texas Workforce Commission procedures,” said Patricia Ohlendorf, the University’s Vice President for Legal Affairs, in a statement last week.

Kearney resigned in January after being told the University was prepared to fire her for a having a consensual relationship with a former student-athlete in 2002. In the complaint, she cites the University’s handling of an incident concerning football offensive coordinator Major Applewhite as a “glaring example” of differing treatment. Applewhite engaged in “inappropriate, consensual behavior with an adult student” in 2009. Applewhite’s salary was suspended for a year following the incident, but he has since received promotions and raises.

The complaint also levies several allegations of harassment by Thornton, who she alleges would speak negatively about her character, professionalism and coaching abilities to others in the athletic department. She said while several administrators including head athletic directors DeLoss Dodds and Chris Plonsky acknowledged the harassment, they did nothing to stop it.

A pair of 2004 letters sent from Kearney to Dodds highlights a longstanding friction between Kearney and Thornton. In the letters, obtained by The Daily Texan through the Texas Public Information Act, Kearney alleges Thornton offered her job to a coach at another university and would speak openly about becoming head coach of both men’s and women’s track and field programs.

The complaint is filed against the entire University, not just the athletic department. In 2011, a former UT employee, Glyn Rogers, filed a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission alleging racial and retaliatory discrimination specifically against the athletic department, according to documents obtained by the Texan through the Texas Public Information Act. UT spokesman Gary Susswein  said the case was dismissed by the Texas Workforce Commission and no lawsuits were filed.

Additional reporting by Hannah Jane DeCiutiis

Published on March 25, 2013 as "Kearney files to sue University". 

This article was edited for accuracy after its original posting. Kearney will be allowed to sue after 180 days have elapsed from the time of the filing regardless of the results of an investigation.

Bev Kearney, former UT women’s track and field head coach, has filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Texas Workforce Commission discrimination charge against the University. Kearney, the most successful coach in UT athletics history, was the first African-American to serve as a head coach at UT. After admitting to having “an intimate consensual relationship” with a female student-athlete on her team in 2002, she resigned on Jan. 5, as the University was preparing to begin her termination process.

Although the University appears to have disciplined Kearney in a manner consistent with its own policy, the allegations highlight a lack of transparency in the University’s handling of student-staff relationships.

Kearney’s attorney, Derek Howard, told the Austin American-Statesman that the complaint will reference UT football’s co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, a white male who admitted to an inappropriate consensual relationship with a female student trainer in 2009. Applewhite was discovered to have disclosed his relationship promptly and had his salary frozen as a result, after an open records request by the Texan brought UT Athletics documentation to light.

Howard said he filed the gender and race discrimination complaint on Kearney’s behalf Tuesday March 12. The TWC does not recognize discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as a type of employment discrimination. The EEOC and TWC will have 180 days to investigate the allegations, after which time Howard said he will file a lawsuit against the University, regardless of any decisions reached by the agencies. The University, pursuant to its Handbook of Operating Procedures’ nondiscrimination policy, does prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Race, gender and sexual orientation are not the only significant differences between the facts of the Kearney and Applewhite cases. Whereas Applewhite quickly informed his supervisor of his “inappropriate conduct,” Kearney failed to disclose her relationship, which under University policy left her “subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”

In January, Howard told the Texan that the University doesn’t cite Kearney’s “failure to report the relationship as the reason for firing her.” Instead, Howard said, “It’s because she had the relationship, period.” Indeed, Patti Ohlendorf, UT’s vice president for legal affairs, cited a rationale absent from the University’s Handbook of Operating Procedures for Kearney’s discipline: “In the case of a head coach and a student-athlete on his or her team, the University’s position is that that cannot be condoned in any event.”

Howard claims to know of at least 10 other instances of inappropriate relationships at UT. It remains to be seen whether Kearney was a victim of workplace discrimination. We hope that isn’t the case. But, allegations of discrimination aside, the University’s implementation of its policy is inadequate at best. The University risks the appearance of discriminatory and arbitrary enforcement if its policy is not made more transparent and realistic. Consensual student-staff relationships, a reality on our campus, have consequences too far-reaching to be dealt with haphazardly.

Bev Kearney, former women’s track and field head coach, has filed a discrimination complaint against the University, according to her attorney, Derek Howard. 

She filed the complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission’s Civil Rights Division, which will now conduct an investigation to see if there were any violations of the Texas Labor Code. The commission has 180 days from the filing date to investigate the complaint and determine whether Kearney has the right to sue the University.

Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for legal affairs, said the University will also begin reviewing the complaint.

“Coach Kearney’s allegations of discrimination will be reviewed thoroughly and responded to according to [the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] and Texas Workforce Commission procedures,” Ohlendorf said in a statement.

Kearney resigned in January after she was told the University was prepared to fire her because of a relationship she had with a student-athlete in 2002. 

The former student-athlete reported the relationship in October, after which Kearney was put on paid leave. Ohlendorf said in the statement Kearney was given an opportunity to provide her side of the story and appeal any decisions the University could make, but she chose to resign. 

Kearney and Howard contest that the University handled her situation differently than similar situations have been handled in the past. In February, a Texas Public Information Act request by the Daily Texan revealed football offensive coordinator Major Applewhite engaged in “inappropriate, consensual behavior with an adult student” during the 2009 Fiesta Bowl festivities. Applewhite’s salary was frozen for a year, but he was not fired.

Ohlendorf said the University reviews allegations and reports of unprofessional relationships on a case-by-case basis.

“As Coach Kearney was told by the University, the relationship that she had with the student-athlete is unprofessional and crosses the line of trust placed in the head coach for all aspects of the athletic program and the best interests of the student-athletes on the team,” she said in the statement.

Published on March 18, 2013 as "Former coach files discrimination suit". 

Kearney files employment discrimination complaint against University

Bev Kearney, former women’s track and field head coach, has filed a discrimination complaint against the University, according to her attorney, Derek Howard.

The complaint has been filed with the Texas Workforce Commission’s Civil Rights Division, which will then conduct an investigation to see if there were any violations of the Texas Labor Code.

Kearney resigned in January after she was told the University was prepared to fire her because of a relationship she had with a student-athlete in 2002. The former student-athlete reported the relationship in October, after which Kearney was put on paid leave.

Kearney and Howard have said in the past that the way her situation was handled by the University is different from the way other situations have been handled.

The Texas Workforce Commission will have 180 days to investigate the complaint, after which it determines whether Kearney has the right to sue the University. 

Following the recent resignation of women’s track and field head coach Bev Kearney, several questions regarding the timing of the incident remain.

Kearney admitted in late October to having “an intimate consensual relationship” in 2002 with “a student-athlete in [the] program,” according to a statement from Patricia Ohlendorf, the University’s vice president for legal affairs.

Kearney’s relationship with the adult student-athlete began about 10 1/2 years ago and ended about eight years ago.

Kearney resigned Jan. 5 after being notified that the University was prepared to begin the termination process.

“You know, you get caught up in the emotional and the physical components of a relationship, and the last thing you’re doing is thinking rationally,” Kearney said in a Jan. 8 interview on the CNN program, “Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien.”

Kearney admitted to the previous relationship after it was brought to the attention of the athletic department in October by the still unrevealed former student-athlete involved. The University then placed Kearney on paid administrative leave as it further investigated the matter before she resigned later on.

According to the University’s Handbook of Operating Procedures, “the University strongly discourages consensual relationships between supervisors and subordinates, teachers and students and advisors and students.” The policy goes on to say that a failure to report the relationship “will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”

The University implemented the policy in November 2001, about a year before the start of the relationship. But Kearney’s attorney Derek Howard said that the University’s reasoning for firing Kearney made no mention of the policy.

“[The University] doesn’t mention [Kearney’s] failure to report the relationship as the reason for firing her,” Howard said. “It’s because she had the relationship, period.”

In her statement, Ohlendorf said the relationship was “unprofessional and crosses the line of trust placed in the head coach for all aspects of the athletic program and the best interests of the student-athletes on the team.”

Kearney told CNN that while she was unaware of the policy to begin with, the disclosure part was never the reason for her termination.

“I said then, ‘Has everyone else been terminated as a point of reference of having had a relationship?’ and the answer was ... ‘We don’t view those the same as yours.’”

There are also several questions regarding the timing of the firing. According to a Nov. 30 story by The Associated Press, Kearney was up for a raise. Chris Plonsky, women’s athletics director, emailed President William Powers Jr. on Sept. 24 to request the raise, which would have brought Kearney’s base salary up from $270,000 per year plus bonuses to $397,000 per year plus bonuses in 2012-13. By 2017, her base salary would have been up to $475,000 per year. Plonsky said in the email that the raise would put her among the top three highest compensated track coaches in the nation.

Contracts need to be approved by the UT System Board of Regents, and Kearney’s contract was set to be on the board’s October agenda until being pulled by administrators, according to the story.

Howard said he believes the revelation of the relationship and the timing of Kearney’s proposed raise are not unrelated.

“We don’t think it was a coincidence,” Howard said. “We do believe there was a motivation to do that.”

Howard said he and Kearney are discussing legal options, which could include a discrimination lawsuit that would not only examine relationships between head coaches and student-athletes but relationships between students and other University employees, including faculty members.

Kearney was the women’s track and field head coach since 1993, leading the Longhorns to six national championships — three indoor and three outdoor — during her 20-year tenure. She was named her conference’s coach of the year 16 times and guided Texas to 14 straight top-10 finishes at the NCAA Outdoor Championships between 1994 and 2007, a previously unprecedented feat.

Kearney had been in a car accident in 2002 and suffered spinal injuries. She had to learn how to walk again, and her story and perseverance have been widely covered by local and national media outlets. Up until her firing, 2012 was a year filled with accomplishments for Kearney including being recognized as one of CNN’s “Breakthrough Women,” sharing the stage with Michelle Obama at the BET Honors gala and watching eight of her former student-athletes compete in the summer Olympics.

Kearney has not been given any opportunity to speak with the team, Howard said. Rose Brimmer, who spent eight seasons as an assistant coach under Kearney, will take over as interim head women’s track and field coach, while Stephen Sisson, who has been an assistant women’s track and field coach at Texas since 2006, will take on “expanded duties.” The athletic department did not respond to a question on whether it had begun its search for a new head coach.