Former UD women’s volleyball coaches’ allegations of discrimination partially rejected by judge

UD Vs Towson Volleyball_15620502012_l Courtesy of Delaware Athletics
Former volleyball coaches’ claims that UD fired them based on sexual orientation, marital status and age have been partially rejected.

BY
Managing News Editor

Bonnie Kenny and Cindy Gregory’s separate claims that the university fired them based on sexual orientation, marital status and age have been partially rejected. The former women’s volleyball coaches filed two actions against the university on Feb. 22, 2018, pursuant to an alleged violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) as well as alleged violations of due process and the equal protection clause under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The university previously filed a motion on Oct. 23, 2017 to dismiss Kenny and Gregory’s cases.
Six counts were under deliberation. The first and second counts, under alleged violations of the due process clause, were dismissed in favor of the university (the Defendants in these cases) due to Kenny’s failure to “allege a cognizable liberty interest” under the Fourteenth Amendment.

This rejection additionally included her failure to prove a stigma against her under the “stigma-plus” test, wherein it must be proven that an employer “create[d] and disseminate[d] a false and defamatory impression about the employee in connection with her termination.”

The dismissed counts in question surrounded Kenny and Gregory’s sudden departure in the fall of 2016. Following an imposed week of leave by the university, the two coaches were “relieved of their coaching duties” on Oct. 16.

At this time, the reasoning behind their dismissals seemed uncertain. Three months after the firings, Sara Matthews was named their sole replacement as the new Delaware volleyball head coach.

Seven months after their departure, The Review released an article dictating the coaches’ usage of “psychological warfare,” according to Karina Evans, a former player for the women’s volleyball team. Evans, along with other accounts from former players, affirmed that the coaches made teammates “uncomfortable,” and said “nasty, horrible things” to them.

The aforementioned article additionally included accounts of several alleged instances wherein members recalled their Wednesday meetings, featuring conversations with Gregory that would leave the women in tears more often than not. Teammates were made examples of and told they were disappointments, with most of their concerns remaining largely ignored.

In one case, after one freshman member, Alyssa Walton broke her wrist and made strides over the subsequent months to heal properly, she was accused of having a “lack of commitment.” The incident was the catalyst to Walton’s departure from the team. She was not the only one to end her volleyball career at Delaware early.

The denial of the counts District Judge Richard G. Andrews granted in favor of the university additionally concerned Kenny’s allegations that the university did little to protect her reputation. Kenny’s complaint stated that her time at the university was “successful” and that she had “consistently received excellent performance evaluations.”

However, it was revealed in court documents that the former coaches’ imposed leave followed an Oct. 3, 2016 complaint from a member’s parent that alleged their daughter had been mistreated.

Other allegations from Kenny included that her termination was “without cause,” and “motivated by discrimination based on her age, sexual orientation, and marital status,” in reference to the fact that she and Gregory had married in 2013. This was posed in tandem with the allegation that “all Defendants,” including the university, knew of their marriage. This information was introduced with context that the university had “terminated five other female coaches over the age of 40,” with four of the coaches in question identifying as homosexual.

Kenny also posited that she suffered damage to her reputation due to the termination taking place in the middle of the season, as well as the university’s “silence to the press” and The Review’s published article.

However, Andrews found that Kenny failed to prove that the article was connected to her firing, adding further to the reasoning behind granting the partial motion.

The remaining four counts (III through VI) were denied in favor of Gregory and Kenny. The judge ruled that Kenny “sufficiently established a prima facie case of age discrimination.” This means that Kenny was assumed correct until proven otherwise within the ADEA. This was proven due to the terms of her sudden departure and that Kenny “sufficiently state[d] a claim of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status.” Further, due to her adequately alleging a discrimination and Equal Protection claim, Andrews stated the Court’s denial of the sixth and final count in favor of the Plaintiff(s).

According to a memorandum offered by Andrews, Gregory’s “Complaint, briefing, and arguments in [her] case are essentially identical to those in [Kenny’s], leaving Andrews to state that he had “reach[ed] the same conclusion [in Gregory’s case].”

Kenny coached 15 seasons with the university’s volleyball program. In her still-active biography page on bluehens.com, the university’s website for athletic-related news, the former coach “took over a program that had suffered through four straight losing seasons” prior to being named head coach in Feb. 2002.

Before coming to the university, Gregory “served as an assistant under Kenny during her entire tenure at the University of Massachusetts” for six years, between 1995 and 2001 and became an associate head coach at the same time as Kenny assumed the “head coach” position.

Both of the former coaches’ online biographies continue on to laud their achievements over the 15 seasons spent at Delaware. The pages have not been updated since Oct. 16, 2016.

Following a few sentences about the former coaches’ departures, the pages, for both Kenny and Gregory, still tote a statement from the director of athletics and recreation services, Chrissi Rawak.

Rawak wrote, “A change in the leadership of our volleyball program was appropriate at this time [Oct. 2016] … We want to thank Bonnie and Cindy for their many years of service and wish them all the best.”

According to court documents, due to it not “appear[ing] that [the] Plaintiff could amend her Complaint to state the claims she has asserted in Counts I and II,” Andrews ruled that the leave to amend would not be granted and that an appropriate order will be entered.

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