Report: Brenny awarded up to $359,000 in bias case

Katie Brenny, the former Minnesota women's coach who sued the school alleging that it fired her after learning that she is a lesbian, reportedly was awarded a maximum $359,000 by a Minneapolis judge.

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More than three years after Katie Brenny filed a sexual-discrimination lawsuit against the University of Minnesota, the former women's golf coach emerged victorious.

Brenny, who alleged that the school fired her after learning she is a lesbian, has been awarded a maximum $359,000 by a Minneapolis judge, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. After the ruling Tuesday in a trial that began four months ago in Hennepin County District Court, Brenny’s attorney Don Mark expressed relief for his client in a telephone interview with Golfweek.

“I think this has been a very difficult, emotional journey for her,” Mark said. “She feels that she has been vindicated by the decision. I think this will do an awful lot to restore the confidence that she had. I think the decision is going to be therapeutic, in some respects.”

A message left by Golfweek on Brenny's cellphone had not been returned. Since January 2012, Brenny, 33, has worked for The First Tee of Metropolitan New York, where she serves as manager of special projects and outcomes.

Judge Thomas Sipkins wrote that Brenny was singled out by John Harris, the Gophers’ former director of golf, and subjected to disparate treatment because of her sexual orientation, according to a story in the Star Tribune, which cited the ruling. Brenny was awarded a maximum of $334,000 for lost wages and $25,000 for mental anguish.

Brenny, a native Minnesotan and former state amateur champion who had played at Wake Forest, was hired Aug. 30, 2010, on a one-year contract worth $44,000. She resigned two months into the job, claiming that her role had been reduced to administrative functions and that she was prohibited from traveling with the team. She sued the university and Harris on Jan. 12, 2011, alleging sexual bias and citing the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The university and Harris denied Brenny’s allegations.

Harris, a former U.S. Amateur champion and a legendary figure in Twin Cities sports, ultimately resigned and subsequently was dropped as a defendant in the lawsuit.

A message left by Golfweek on Harris' cellphone had not been returned.

"The University of Minnesota Office of the General Counsel has received the Hennepin County District Court decision in Brenny v. The Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota," Chuck Tombarge, a Minnesota spokesman, said in a statement. "With due respect to the court, we are disappointed with the decision and will closely review the findings, conclusions and order, and determine the appropriate next steps."

The case went to trial in November and lasted nearly two weeks. Mark told Golfweek that he had submitted findings to the court by early December, but the defense did not submit until early March. That was after having requested a complete transcript of the trial and then an additional 30 days to compile its findings.

“We’re obviously delighted with the outcome,” said Mark, who explained that the court had said the case would be decided on the credibility of witnesses. Brenny served as the primary witness, but women’s golfers who were at the university while Brenny was on staff also testified on her behalf, as well as local expert witnesses.

The university still can appeal, but Mark said that would be a difficult road.

“My read of the decision," he said, "is there’s certainly nothing for them to appeal."

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