Katie Brenny, who abruptly resigned this fall after only two months as women’s coach at Minnesota, is negotiating with the university for a financial payment in lieu of filing a discrimination complaint, her attorney told Golfweek on Dec. 10.
Brenny contends that she encountered a hostile work environment after John Harris, Minnesota’s first-year director of golf, found out that she is a lesbian, according to attorney Donald Mark Jr. of Eden Prairie, Minn.
When contacted by Golfweek, Brenny would not comment and referred questions to Mark, a founding member of the Fafinski Mark & Johnson law firm.
Contrary to reports in Twin Cities media, Mark said, Brenny is still discussing a financial settlement with the university.
“At this point, we’re in discussions with the University of Minnesota, with hopes that they will lead to a fair resolution for Katie,’’ Mark said.
Mark would not discuss financial terms for Brenny, who was hired at a $44,000 annual salary.
University spokesman Daniel Wolter confirmed to the Saint Paul Pioneer-Press that settlement talks had taken place but declined further comment.
Brenny, 30, alleges that Harris would not allow her to travel with the team or instruct players, effectively relegating her to a desk job, once he found out that she is a lesbian, Mark said. Asked whether there was any truth to Brenny’s claim, Harris told Golfweek, “No,’’ before referring questions to university attorneys. Messages left by Golfweek with the office of Mark Rotenberg, Minnesota’s general counsel, were not immediately returned.
Brenny did not accompany the women’s team to any of its four events last fall. The Gophers, ranked No. 42 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, were coached by Ernie Rose, Harris’ son-in-law and the Gophers’ director of instruction. Rose does not have a college degree, which is required by Minnesota for a head coaching position.
A native of Little Falls, Minn., Brenny came to Minnesota after spending time as an assistant club professional at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort. She played professionally on the Duramed Futures Tour and on the Women’s Canadian Tour. Brenny won the 1998 Minnesota high school championship and the 2007 State Amateur. She played at Wake Forest, where she graduated with a communications degree.
Harris, 58, is a legendary figure in Twin Cities sports. He was a two-time All-American in golf in the early 1970s at Minnesota and starred in hockey for Gophers coach Herb Brooks, architect of the 1980 U.S. Olympic “Miracle on Ice.’’ Harris, the 1993 U.S. Amateur champion, competes on the Champions Tour.
Harris replaced Brad James as head of the UM golf program when James left Minnesota to become high-performance director for Golf Australia and the Australia Institute of Sport in his homeland.
Brenny’s attorney Mark has built a reputation of his own in Minnesota’s Athletic Department, but it has come via the courtroom. In May, Mark’s firm won a $1.25 million judgment for Jimmy Williams after Gophers basketball coach Tubby Smith was found by a Hennepin County jury to have misrepresented a job offer to Williams. That award subsequently was reduced by a Hennepin County judge to $1 million, the limit of the university’s insurance.
Mark said that Brenny, who since has returned to North Carolina, experienced “emotional distress and humiliation’’ at Minnesota.
“Katie is a very resilient and positive person,’’ Mark said. “She’s obviously disappointed in the way she was treated, particularly in not being able to coach a group of girls she had become very close to in a short period of time.
“We hope to put this behind us.’’
– Steve Harmon contributed