The University of Texas has agreed to settle a race and gender discrimination lawsuit filed by a champion former track coach.
Bev Kearney, who took the Longhorns to six national championships in women’s track and field, filed the lawsuit after she resigned under duress in January 2013, alleging that she was discriminated against as a black woman.
In December 2012, according to Kearney, university officials told her she was going to be fired over a relationship she’d had 10 years before with a 19-year-old student-athlete on her team. Kearney argues that the university singled her out while doing little to punish those involved in many other affairs, such as that between a high-profile assistant football coach and a student trainer with the football team.
A UT official declined to detail the terms of the settlement.
“The settlement agreement has not been fully finalized,” UT spokesman Gary Susswein said. “Once it is, the agreement will be publicly available in accordance with state law.”
Neither Kearney nor her attorney Jody Mask could be reached for comment on Wednesday.
UT has already spent $500,000 trying to get Kearney’s lawsuit dismissed, according to reports by the Associated Press.
After the Texas Supreme Court decided last year that Kearney’s lawsuit could proceed, the university reportedly began talking settlement. Mask took depositions from several key administrators and coaches involved in the decision to fire Kearney. Those depositions were initially sealed by court order, but further litigation could have brought their information to light.
Kearney’s court filings suggest that, if the case went to trial, she was prepared to air a lot of UT laundry. She alleges that “other University employees (all of whom are white males) have been involved in relationships with students or direct subordinates and have not been subjected to termination, let alone any meaningful disciplinary actions. These University employees include Major Applewhite … other coaches within the University’s Athletic Department, current and former law school professors, current and former professors within the University’s undergraduate school, and a department chairperson.”
The reference to the former law school professor is likely an allusion to then-university President Bill Powers, who met his wife of more than three decades when she was a law student of his in the late ’70s, while he was married to another woman.
In an emergency phone meeting of UT’s Board of Regents, held in spring 2013 to discuss what to do about Applewhite’s one-night stand at a bowl game, one regent “slut-shamed” the student trainer involved, according to participants in the meeting.
Applewhite, meanwhile, was hired during the off-season as the new head football coach at the University of Houston. One of his first hires was an assistant coach caught up in the sexual assault scandal at Baylor University.
Kearney’s court papers claim there are other coaches and officials who either have married former athletes or conducted affairs with employees they supervise. While university policy explicitly permits consensual relationships between an “employee with direct teaching, supervisory, advisory, or evaluative responsibility over other employees, students, and/or student employees,” Kearney claims she was “singled out … (as) an African-American female and regarded as different based on a nearly 10-year-old relationship.”
“Why did Texas sweep the misconduct of Applewhite, a white male, under the rug, but publicly punish Kearney, an African-American female?” Mask asked last fall.
It’s not against Texas law to discriminate in employment on the basis of sexual orientation. However, a federal district judge in Houston ruled in April that federal employment protections included sexual orientation and gender identity. That may have added pressure for UT in the Kearney case. The #MeToo movement has also drawn attention over the last year to the issue of power imbalances in sexual relationships in the workplace.
The Texas Monitor has filed a public records request for the settlement agreement.
Jon Cassidy can be reached at [email protected].