In an affidavit, Pat Summitt said that she initially felt she was being forced to step down as the Lady Vols basketball team by athletic director Dave Hart. Hart said later that she had misinterpreted his comments.
We all know that Pat Summitt is battling early-onset dementia, but how many of us truly believe that she would have misinterpreted something as serious as being asked to step down from a program that she had been at for 38 years. Fans know that Pat Summitt would have made the decision when the right time came and few believe that she couldn’t have coached more years.
The signed affidavit was part of a lawsuit filed against the University of Tennessee by former Lady Vols media director Debby Jennings. In it, Summitt said Hart told her at a March 14 meeting prior to the NCAA tournament that she would have to step down at the end of the season. Summitt had revealed before the season that she was battling early-onset dementia.
“This was very surprising to me and very hurtful, as that was a decision I would have liked to have made on my own at the end of the season after consulting with my doctors, colleagues and friends and not be told this by Mr. Hart,” Summitt said in the affidavit. “I felt this was wrong.” Summitt’s affidavit says Jennings was one of a handful of people she told about the meeting with Hart.
Summitt went on to say in the affidavit that Hart later told her that she had misinterpreted what he had said. The affidavit is included in an amended complaint filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
In the affidavit, Summit also claims Hart told her in a Feb. 15 meeting that he wanted to place all of Tennessee’s athletics teams under the same “power T” logo instead of the Lady Volunteers brand.
“I was angered when he came out in an interview with the media in May 2012 and denied that he ever intended to do away with the Lady Vol logo,” the affidavit states.
Jennings’ lawsuit alleges that age and sex discrimination led to her forced retirement from the school where she had worked for 35 years.
Tennessee officials had no immediate response to the amended complaint. Summitt’s son, Tyler Summitt, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press Wednesday that, “We are not going to comment right now on this matter.”
Summitt’s future as the Lady Vols coach was a season-long topic of discussion and Tennessee officials repeatedly said they would support whatever decision she made. Warlick was very emotional after the Lady Vols’ season-ending defeat in the NCAA tournament on March 26. After the loss, Warlick said Summitt hadn’t discussed the situation with her, or anyone else.
At the April press conference announcing her retirement, Tyler Summitt said the move was his mother’s decision.
Pat Summitt said that day: “It’s never a good time, but you have to find the time that you think is the right time and that is now.”
When Jennings’ lawsuit was originally filed Sept. 27, university spokesperson Margie Nichols denied any allegation that Summitt had been forced out.
“It’s absolutely not true,” Nichols said last week. “It was Pat’s idea to become the head coach emeritus. I think she made that really clear at her press conference earlier this year.”
Jennings’ suit also argued that Hart retaliated against Jennings when she protested that Summitt’s early onset dementia protected her from losing her job under the Americans With Disabilities Act. By law, Summitt could have sued and won a lawsuit against Hart and the University of Tennessee. Jennings said in the original complaint that Summitt informed her of Hart’s intentions after that March meeting. Jennings indicated in the suit that she sent a written protest to Hart asking him to reconsider, and that he sent her an angry email in response.
The suit indicates Hart spoke with Jennings at a May 15 meeting and gave her less than three hours to choose whether to resign, retire or be fired. The suit charges that she lost her job either due to her gender and age or out of retaliation for her advocacy of gender-equity issues, opposition to discrimination against female student-athletes and opposition to sex, disability or age discrimination.
Jennings was 57 years old when she left her job as the university worked toward consolidating the men’s and women’s athletic departments.
By Nancy Morris