Former U of M coach wins lawsuit over firing; awarded $360,000

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A former golf coach at the University of Minnesota was awarded nearly $360,000 Tuesday by a judge who agreed with her claims that she was fired after the school learned she was a lesbian, the Star Tribune reports.

Kathryn Brenny is entitled to double her back pay and compensation for mental anguish -- in all, $359,588 plus attorneys' fees, Hennepin County District Judge Thomas Sipkins ruled Tuesday, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The ruling comes four months after a nine-day trial heard by Judge Sipkins.

Sipkins said Brenny's treatment by the school and by John Harris, a former pro golfer who was then head of the U's golf program, was discriminatory and broke the law.

In August 2010 Harris hired Brenny, a native of Little Falls, Minn., and a former state high school golf champ, to coach the U's women's golf team. She called it her "dream job." Harris did not know when he hired Brenny that she was a lesbian, the judge wrote. Harris learned of her sexual orientation shortly thereafter.

Harris then "undertook a series of adverse employment actions intended to force her resignation," Sipkins wrote.

Among them: Harris told Brenny she could have only very limited contact with the players on her team, and could not travel with them.

In mid-September 2010, Harris revised Brenny's job description and eliminated all her coaching duties, the judge wrote. She appealed to then-athletic director Joel Maturi, but he deferred to Harris.

In late October, Maturi told Renny her choices were to resign or be reassigned to sell football tickets at TCF Bank stadium, according to the Pioneer Press.

Brenny decided to quit, and later came to believe that Harris had pushed her out after learning that she was a lesbian.

"These adverse actions by Harris as the University's director of golf were intentional and motivated by his discriminatory animus toward Brenny because of her sexual orientation," the judge wrote in his ruling.

Harris resigned as head of the school's golf program in June 2011, five months after Brenny sued. She had named him as a defendant, along with the U, but in May 2012 the Minnesota Court of Appeals dismissed the claim against him, according to the Pioneer Press.

Despite the fact that Harris was dropped from the case, Sipkins singled him out in his ruling, saying that he demeaned Brenny and prevented her from performing her job. Harris did not respond to requests for comment.

Brenny, 33, now works for a youth program in New York City that uses golf to teach life skills. She did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Her attorney, Donald Chance Mark Jr., said Brenny was excited to hear of the judge's decision. It has been a difficult experience for her, he said; she feels her character and credibility have been attacked, according to the Star Tribune.

“I think this certainly is vindication for Katie,” Mark said. “This confirms the discrimination she experienced while employed at the University of Minnesota. It will help serve as a deterrent for discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

University spokesman Chuck Tombarge said, “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.”

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