Appeals Court clears U's ex-golf chief from bias suit

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 8, 2012 - 2:03 AM

Kathryn Brenny claims the university and John Harris discriminated against her after learning she is a lesbian.

Kathryn Brenny

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday that the University of Minnesota's ex-golf director cannot be sued by a former coach who alleges he discriminated against her because she is a lesbian.

The order reverses an earlier decision by a Hennepin County District Court judge that denied John Harris' request to be dismissed from Kathryn Brenny's lawsuit against him and the University of Minnesota.

In a 2-1 decision, the Appeals Court said Harris cannot he held liable because his actions fell within his duties as a U employee.

Harris resigned last year after one season on the job. Brenny's lawsuit against the university is still pending in Hennepin County District Court.

Brenny's attorneys had argued that Harris' alleged interference with her employment contract was "motivated by malice and bad faith" which "took him outside the scope of" his employment.

The Appeals Court disagreed, stating the conduct was "within his authority and capacity as a university employee."

In dissent, Appeals Court Judge Larry Stauber wrote that if Brenny can prove Harris discriminated against her, his conduct "was wholly unrelated to the university's management or supervision of Ms. Brenny as an employee; instead, it was a personal attack based on nothing but his own bigotry."

Brenny sued Harris and the university in January 2011, alleging that Harris stripped her of her duties as soon as she began her job as associate golf coach and he discovered her sexual orientation. The suit says the U and Harris violated her rights as a member of a protected class under the state Human Rights Act.

The complaint states that Harris "did not want to hire a homosexual to coach the women's golf team."

Brenny was prevented from meeting with team members, from contacting them by e-mail and from providing golf instruction. She quit after two months, rejecting a severance package from the university.

University general counsel Mark Rotenberg has said the school does not agree with Brenny's claims and did not discriminate against her on the basis of sexual orientation.

Brenny's attorney, Donald Chance Mark Jr., said he has not decided whether to appeal the decision.

Mark also represents would-be assistant basketball coach Jimmy Williams, who won a $1.5 million award from the U after a rescinded job offer. The university appealed the award to the state Supreme Court, where the case was argued last week.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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