FMJ Earns Victory for Former Golf Coach Katie Brenny in Sexual Orientation Discrimination Lawsuit

March 2014

In 2010, the University of Minnesota recruited and hired FMJ’s client, Katie Brenny, to serve as the associate head coach of its women’s golf program.  Brenny, who was then living in North Carolina, moved to Minnesota to pursue her dream job.  John Harris, the Director of Golf at the University, represented to Brenny that the position was a head coaching position and would involve travelling, recruiting, instruction and all coaching responsibilities.

Within a couple weeks of starting the job, Brenny’s duties significantly and inexplicably changed from what had been represented to her.  Harris specifically instructed her not to provide golf instruction to the girls.  He assigned her to perform menial administrative tasks and help with the men’s events and men’s recruitment.  When Brenny complained about the disparity between her stated and actual job duties, the University officially changed her job duties and made it clear she could either accept them or be out of a job.

After things became so intolerable, Brenny went to Joel Maturi, the University’s Athletics Director, to seek relief.  Maturi told her to comply with Harris’s demand or quit.  A short time later, Maturi offered her a severance if she would quit.  The Assistant Athletics Director told her if she did not resign, the University would reassign her to TCF Bank Stadium to sell football tickets.  Feeling she had no alternative, Brenny resigned.  Within days, she discovered that the reason she was prohibited from coaching the girls was because Harris had learned she is gay.

Brenny timely rescinded the severance and subsequently filed a lawsuit against the University, alleging discrimination because of her sexual orientation.  The case was tried in Hennepin County District Court of Minnesota in November of 2013. On March 18, 2014, the court rendered a favorable verdict.

In a strongly worded order, the Honorable Thomas M. Sipkins concluded that “Brenny was intentionally subjected to disparate treatment based on her sexual orientation. Brenny’s sexual orientation was the motivating factor in Harris’s decision to demote her, remove her coaching responsibilities, remove her opportunity for advancement, and remove her involvement in the golf camps/clinics. Furthermore, Harris’s treatment of Brenny made the working environment plainly intolerable. She was demeaned, belittled and prevented from performing the job that Harris had recruited her to fill. University employees testified that they had never seen another coach treated this way before. Harris stripped Brenny of her responsibilities and told her to disassociate herself from the players.”

Katie Brenny was awarded nearly $360,000.00, in addition to prejudgment interest and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

FMJ founding shareholder Donald Chance Mark, Jr. and attorney Peter A.T. Carlson tried the case.  “We are gratified by this decision. It is vindication for Katie Brenny and confirms the discrimination she experienced while employed at the University of Minnesota. We hope that this decision serves as a deterrent for those who would discriminate based on sexual orientation,” stated Don.

For more background on the case, please see this Star Tribune article.

If you have any questions or comments for Don or Peter, please feel free to reach them at donald.mark@fmjlaw.com and peter.carlson@fmjlaw.com or 952.995.9500.