AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A former University of Texas track coach’s sex and race discrimination lawsuit has new life, and her lawyers are still pursuing long-sought testimony from former football coach Mack Brown and prominent current and former administrators as they dig into one of college sports’ highest-profile athletic departments.
Former women’s track coach Bev Kearney sued the school for at least $1 million in damages in 2013 after she was ousted over a romantic relationship with one of her sprinters a decade earlier.
School officials said Kearney “crossed the line” between a head coach and athlete. But Kearney, who is black, argues she was more harshly punished than a white male assistant football coach who was reprimanded, but not fired, over “inappropriate” conduct with a student trainer on a bowl game trip.
Bolstered by a recent court ruling in Kearney’s favor, her lawyers say they’ll vigorously push for sworn statements from Brown, former athletic director DeLoss Dodds, former school president Bill Powers and current women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky over how school officials handled both cases.
“We will go as high as we have to go,” Kearney attorney Jody Mask said. “No one will be off limits.”
University appeals have slowed down attorneys’ efforts for nearly two years.
Court records reviewed by The Associated Press show Kearney’s lawyers pressed the school in July 2014 for depositions from Brown and the others. About three weeks later, the university asked an Austin appeals court to dismiss the case, effectively halting all evidence gathering for 21 months. The court ruled May 3 that her case could go forward, but Texas threw up another roadblock last Wednesday when it asked the appeals court to reconsider.
Patti Ohlendorf, Texas vice president for legal affairs, declined comment on Kearney’s efforts to depose school officials or to say whether the school will try to block or limit any questioning.
“UT Austin continues to believe that all actions we took were lawful and appropriate,” Ohlendorf said.
All four are employed by the university — Brown and Dodds as special assistants, Powers a law school professor — so the school will represent them in any litigation, Ohlendorf said.
Kearney’s lawyers are seeking information on how the university handled discipline for Kearney and former football assistant Major Applewhite, who is now the offensive coordinator at Houston and the only person deposed in the case so far. His interview and documents released to Kearney’s lawyers were sealed by a court order, requested by the university on the grounds that it was needed to protect private student information.
Brown hired Applewhite, a popular former Longhorns quarterback, in early 2008. In January 2009, Applewhite was reprimanded by Dodds for the incident with the student trainer while the team was at the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona.
Dodds froze Applewhite’s salary at $260,000 for one year, and ordered him to schedule a session with a “licensed professional counselor.”
But unlike Kearney, who was fired, Applewhite was allowed to stay on staff. He was eventually promoted to offensive coordinator and reached a salary level of $525,000 until Brown and his staff were forced out after the 2013 season.
Applewhite’s discipline wasn’t publicly revealed until the month after Kearney resigned, when the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Texan, filed an open records request.
“There was a deliberate effort to cover that up,” Mask said. “Very different than Bev Kearney’s case … Why is it the African-American female gets that treatment?”
Kearney was one of the most successful women’s track coaches in the country and was being considered for a significant raise in 2012 until the 2002 relationship with one of her runners was reported to school officials. She resigned in January 2013 under threat of being fired.
Kearney is now living in California where she trains athletes, Mask said.
“She’s not denying the existence of a relationship,” Mask said. “She’s not bringing a lawsuit out of revenge, or out of anger. She has genuinely brought her claim to right a wrong.”