The recent changes in the University of Tennessee's Athletics Department have not been without controversy. The university is combining its men's and women's athletic departments, and some jobs have been lost.
It appears that some of the people leaving didn't want to go, and that includes longtime Associate Athletics Director for Media Relations, Debby Jennings. Jennings has worked with the Lady Vols and Pat Summitt for 35 years.
Her retirement was announced last week, but a letter from her lawyer, David Burkhalter, claims she was forced out. In letters from Burkhalter to Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, the attorney calls Jennings' departure a quote "forced retirement" and a "wrongful discharge case."
In the letter, Burkhalter says Athletic Director Dave Hart asked Jennings to resign last December, but she declined. Then, on May 15, she was given an ultimatum:
According to the letter, "She was told she had the "choice" of retiring, being terminated, and/or resigning, and she was to give Mr. Hart her decision by 4:30 p.m. that same clay before he left on the Big Orange Caravan or she would be terminated for alleged "insubordination." She then returned to her office to find that while she was in this meeting her computer had been confiscated and you can understand how this made her feel as if she was being treated as a common criminal. Later, she discovered that U.T. had deleted the majority of her saved email files."
The letter goes on to say that Jennings' duties were taken over by a younger male, and goes on to suggest a reason that Jennings may have been forced out:
"As you know, her forced retirement follows an approximate two year period in which Debby had been quietly complaining of gender and age discrimination and hoping that this would be rectified behind the scenes. Her complaints, however, only resulted in increased hostility, harassment, curtailment of responsibilities, isolation, and other forms of retaliation by the men placed above her."
Burkhalter says he has advised Jennings that she has the basis to pursue a discrimination/retaliation case against
U.T. He has asked the university for all e-mails concerning Jennings and all documents from Jennings' computer be preserved, for possible legal action.
Burkhalter's letter gives the university 10 days to contact him regarding a resolution or he will proceed without further notice.