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Katie Brenny

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Dec. 10, 2010: Brenny says U demoted her because she's a lesbian

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON
  • Star Tribune
  • December 10, 2010 - 7:45 AM

Little Falls native and former state high school golf champion Katie Brenny returned to Minnesota in August believing she would coach the University of Minnesota women's golf team.

But within a week, the job Brenny thought would involve recruiting, training and traveling with players turned into a desk job because she is a lesbian, her lawyer, Donald Chance Mark Jr., alleged Thursday.

He and university General Counsel Mark Rotenberg confirmed they are in negotiations aimed at avoiding a lawsuit by Brenny.

"We're talking, and if it fails, we're going to sue," Chance Mark said.

Rotenberg said the university does not agree with the claims. "It is not true the university discriminated against her on the basis of sexual orientation," Rotenberg said. As for the alleged change in the job description, Rotenberg said, "Her particular job responsibilities were discussed with her before she took the job."

Brenny's lawsuit would cite state laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and allege her employers subjected her to a hostile work environment, Chance Mark said.

Specifically, Chance Mark accused a university official of changing Brenny's job because of her sexual orientation. He would not discuss how the official is alleged to have learned that Brenny is a lesbian.

"I am prepared to support the allegations with fact," Chance Mark said. "We've got enough evidence."

Through a university spokesman, the official and Athletic Director Joel Maturi declined to comment on Brenny's allegations.

The U official hired Brenny, 30, as the $41,000-a-year associate women's golf coach in August. At the time, the university's website said she would "assist [the official] with all duties."

"She wasn't here a week, and they changed the job description," Chance Mark said, adding that the situation was "fraught with fraud." Rotenberg disagreed, saying, "The university did not engage in any fraud with this person."

Chance Mark said the official took away Brenny's responsibilities and put a relative in charge of the women's team. "It just smells," Chance Mark said.

The lawyer said university coaches are required to have a bachelor's degree, and the U official's relative does not. Brenny earned her degree from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., where she played golf for the Demon Deacons.

Rotenberg said every lawsuit has two sides, but he wouldn't engage in a public "tit for tat" on the claims by Brenny's lawyer. "These particular allegations ... may or may not be the whole story," he said. "What I'm trying to do now is deal with her lawyer's claims in a way that is satisfactory to both sides."

Rotenberg said, "The university's doing everything possible to avoid any unnecessary lawsuit."

Brenny won the state golf title in 1998, her senior year at Little Falls High School. She was an assistant club professional at Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, N.C., and a staff member on the PGA Tour's Developmental Nationwide Tour. She played professionally on the Duramed Futures Tour and the Women's Canadian Tour.

Chance Mark said Brenny moved across the country to lead the women's program for the Gophers. The would-be coach began working with Chance Mark on a lawsuit in late October.

Chance Mark said he has not set a deadline for a deal. He has experience suing the university: He won a $1.25 million jury verdict in a case involving Gophers assistant basketball coach Jimmy Williams.

That lawsuit alleged Tubby Smith wrongfully represented himself as having the authority to hire Williams. Relying on Smith's word, Williams resigned his position at Oklahoma State and prepared to move back to Minnesota.

But Maturi stopped the hiring because of NCAA violations in the Gophers' program during the late 1970s and 1980s, when Williams was an assistant. The state Court of Appeals reduced the jury award to $1 million.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-7212

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