Former University of Texas at Austin women's track and field coach Beverly Kearney filed a lawsuit against the university on Thursday alleging that she was discriminated and retaliated against when she was fired last year.
Kearney, who was UT's first African-American head coach and led the team to six championships, was fired following the revelation that she had engaged in a romantic relationship with one of the student-athletes on her team. In the lawsuit, Kearney's attorneys allege that she was subjected to a double standard, citing other romantic entanglements that have occurred between students and white male coaches and other university officials.
The lawsuit charges, “The University has apparently turned a blind eye toward non-African-American and non-female coaches, professors and administrators who have also carried on consensual relationships with students, student-athletes, student-employees and subordinate employees.”
The highest-profile example the lawsuit mentions involves Major Applewhite, an offensive coordinator for the UT football team and former Longhorn quarterback. When university officials learned that Applewhite had been involved in a one-time, inappropriate encounter with a student, he was not fired. Instead, he was punished with a roughly 11-month salary freeze.
“The UT good ol’ boy system gives Applewhite a slap on the wrist. Kearney gets fired,” Jody Mask, one of Kearney's lawyers, said in a statement. “The double standard is alive and well at UT Austin."
The revelation of the Applewhite incident, which occurred in 2009 but did not come to light until nearly a year ago, prompted the University of Texas System regents to form a task force to examine and recommend improvements to the system's policies on relationships between students and university employees. The group's recommendations have not yet been presented and considered by the board.
Kearney was recently the subject of a lengthy profile in Texas Monthly that highlighted the adversity she overcame to become one of the most prominent coaches in the state. It also details the long-term relationship that apparently led to her termination, and the negative effects her tough coaching style had on some students.
Rather than the relationship, in the lawsuit, Kearney's lawyers allege that the coach's termination was motivated more by a desire to retaliate against her for complaining about discrimination at the university that she claimed to have experienced on the basis of her race and gender.
The lawsuit also alleges that an unnamed senior official in the athletics department “has carried on a prolonged intimate relationship of approximately three years with a subordinate employee with whom he has direct involvement in setting her pay."
In a statement, UT's vice president for legal affairs, Patti Ohlendorf, said, "The University of Texas will thoroughly review the unfounded allegations of Ms. Kearney’s lawsuit and respond through the proper legal channels."
She said all cases of alleged inappropriate behavior are reviewed and considered individually.
"In this case," she said of the track coach, "it was evident that Ms. Kearney displayed a serious lack of judgment by having an inappropriate, intimate, long-term relationship with a member of her team."