Brenny alleges sexual bias against Minnesota
Friday, January 14, 2011
Katie Brenny, who resigned last fall after two months as women’s golf coach at Minnesota, served a lawsuit Jan. 11 against the university, claiming that as a lesbian she faced discrimination from director of golf John Harris.
The 16-page complaint, which was filed Jan. 12 in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis, cites the Minnesota Human Rights Act in seeking damages “in excess of $50,000’’ as determined by state statute.
Brenny, on the advice of counsel, would not comment when contacted by Golfweek but released a statement through her attorney, Donald Chance Mark Jr.:
“Almost as soon as I arrived in Minnesota, I was not permitted to carry out the duties of the position, and I was denied the opportunity to coach the team,” Brenny said. “This included my not being permitted to travel with the team to the four tournaments scheduled for the fall. The atmosphere that was created became more and more hostile, to the point where it made it intolerable for me to even perform the limited administrative duties that had been reassigned to me. While I was never given an explanation for why I was treated this way, I later learned that I was discriminated against because of my gender and sexual preference.”
Harris, who is in his first season as director of golf at his alma mater, also is a defendant in the complaint. When reached via cellphone, Harris told Golfweek that he was out of town but aware of the complaint.
“I can’t comment on any of it,’’ Harris said. “This thing will all play out, but I can’t comment on it now.’’
A message left on Athletic Director Joel Maturi’s cellphone was forwarded to Mark Rotenberg in the university's Office of the General Counsel, which released this statement:
“The University of Minnesota strongly contests both the factual foundation and legal basis of the claims asserted in this lawsuit. The university has made every reasonable effort to address Ms. Brenny’s concerns. This institution has an unwavering commitment to civil and human rights and equal treatment for our students, faculty and staff, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. We intend to vigorously defend the university in this case.”
In the lawsuit, Brenny, 30, alleges that Harris minimized her coaching duties upon learning shortly after hiring her Aug. 30 as associate head coach that she is a lesbian. Brenny, who had signed a one-year contract worth $44,000, claims she was not allowed to travel to team events or offer swing instruction at practice.
“Harris delegated administrative tasks to (Brenny), such as typing up the schedules for the women’s and men’s teams and escorting several recruits for the men’s golf team to a university football game,” according to the complaint.
Brenny claims that when she scheduled a team meeting and photograph, Harris told her to cancel both, saying, “You have nothing to talk to these girls about.”
Brenny says that she was limited to one e-mail per day to women’s team members and was prohibited from contacting prospective recruits.
In mid-September, Brenny began meeting with Athletic Department administrators about what she deemed a hostile work environment. Shortly thereafter, according to the complaint, she was given a new job description, one in which she would evaluate players left at home while the team traveled to tournaments. She also would be “communication coordinator” for the program, updating Facebook and the team website. Other responsibilities included monitoring conditioning programs for both teams as well as their academic standing.
Brenny then wrote a letter to the administration expressing concerns about how she had been treated and asked the school to reconsider the new job description.
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 the university for a head coaching position, according to the suit.
After a series of meetings with athletic officials to resolve her standing in the golf program, Brenny took her concerns to Maturi, the athletic director. According to the suit, Maturi said she had two choices: quit or comply with Harris. Brenny proceeded to inquire with UM human resources about how to file an internal grievance. Maturi offered a severance package before later offering to transfer her to a sales position at TCF Bank Stadium, the Gophers’ on-campus football complex.
Brenny had accepted the separation agreement until players on the women’s team informed her that Rose told players Brenny wasn’t traveling with them to tournaments because Harris “discovered she was a homosexual and did not want her on the road with the team,” the lawsuit alleges.
Brenny rescinded the separation agreement and retained Mark, a founder of the Fafinski Mark & Johnson law firm of suburban Eden Prairie. Talks aimed at producing a financial settlement broke off last week.
A native of Little Falls, Minn., Brenny came to Minnesota after a brief professional career, during which she played on the Duramed Futures Tour and on the Women’s Canadian Tour. She also was an assistant club professional at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort after her varsity career at Wake Forest, from which she graduated with a communications degree. Brenny won the 1998 Minnesota high school championship and the 2007 State Amateur. Since resigning from her coaching job at Minnesota, she has moved back to North Carolina.
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, the architect of the 1980 U.S. Olympic “Miracle on Ice.’’ Harris has won just about every golf title worth winning in Minnesota - foremost, four State Amateurs, five State Mid-Amateurs and consecutive State Opens. At age 41, he won the 1993 U.S. Amateur before playing on four Walker Cup teams - all as a fortysomething. Harris still competes on the Champions Tour.
Harris replaced Brad James last summer 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 his own reputation in Minnesota’s Athletic Department. In May, his 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 as an assistant coach. That award subsequently was reduced by a Hennepin County judge to $1 million.
– Steve Harmon contributed