The month before he lost his job in a sexual harassment scandal, Norwood Teague was publicly professing his commitment to the law that forbids sex discrimination in college sports.
Wearing a maroon-and-gold tie, the University of Minnesota’s athletic director proudly told the Board of Regents that he was part of the “Title IX generation.”
That law, he declared July 8, is “a part of every decision that we make within the Department of Athletics. It requires daily attention and we consider it at every turn.”
Now Teague’s troubles — including two past gender discrimination complaints — are roiling a university that has faced persistent concerns about shortchanging women’s athletics for decades.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who authored a 1975 state law banning gender discrimination in sports, was blunt: “Should he have been in charge of [the Athletic Department]? The obvious answer is no. Should the university have investigated further? Yes.”
Since the early 1990s, records obtained by the Star Tribune show the university has faced repeated complaints about disparities in men’s and women’s sports, particularly in such areas as funding, publicity, recruiting and coaches’ salaries. In December, the federal Department of Education began investigating a complaint that the U has engaged in widespread discrimination against female athletes.
President Eric Kaler insists that Teague’s downfall is not a reflection on the school’s commitment to women’s sports. Teague resigned two weeks ago after admitting he sexually harassed two female colleagues at a July 15 leadership retreat.
“To connect Teague’s individual actions with the institution’s overall commitment to Title IX equity is simply misguided,” Kaler said in a statement. “Ensuring compliance with Title IX is an institutional obligation that starts and stops with me and the Board of Regents.”
Teague could not be reached for comment.
While Kaler condemned Teague’s behavior at the retreat, he has said he heard no concerning reports about him before that incident.
But lawmakers and women’s sports advocates question why the U didn’t take action when, in Teague’s first year on the job, they learned that two women had accused him of violating the very law he was hired to help enforce.
“If you’re led by someone who is demeaning to women, this shouldn’t be shocking that the department would not be treating women equitably,” said Scott Lewis, a Pennsylvania attorney who advises colleges on gender equity issues.
University officials have sought to downplay the two gender discrimination cases that were filed in 2012 and 2013, but only became public this month. High-ranking women in athletics at the U and Virginia Commonwealth University, Teague’s former employer, both won six-figure settlements.
Regina Sullivan, a former associate athletic director at the U, accused Teague of firing her in 2012 after she raised concerns “about his lack of support for women in the Athletics Department and Title IX,” according to her complaint. The school settled for $175,000, but even now it disputes the claim of gender discrimination.
The school’s general counsel, William Donohue, said the school evaluated the complaint and determined the case was defensible, noting that Sullivan was laid off at the same time as two male administrators. But the U settled the case, Donohue said, to “avoid a prolonged and protracted fight.”
Meanwhile, the university has said that Teague failed to disclose the earlier VCU complaint. In that case, a former women’s basketball coach, Beth Cunningham, accused Teague of gender discrimination, and received a $125,000 settlement in July 2012, the month Teague formally started his job at the U. The school says it knew nothing about the VCU settlement until five months later, when Sullivan’s lawyers told them about it.
To some, his failure to tell the U about that complaint should have been the first sign of trouble.
“I think that calls into question whether or not someone is trustworthy, and the answer is no, Teague wasn’t trustworthy,” said Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, who heads the Minnesota Senate Higher Education Committee. “In retrospect, he should have been fired for that.”
Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, her counterpart on the House higher education committee, said he, too, was puzzled by the university’s response. “I wonder why they would keep him on, knowing what I know now,” he said.
Patti Phillips, head of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators, said Teague’s record should have disqualified him.
“In my opinion, any individual with documented sexual discrimination complaints and settlements — regardless of hiring duties, Title IX or any other leadership areas of focus — should not be hired into a higher education or athletics department leadership role,” she said.
Kaler declined to say if he ever asked Teague directly about the Virginia sex-discrimination complaint when it finally came to light. Nor would he say what, if any, action he took as a result, though the U said Teague was never disciplined before his resignation.
Kaler insisted that the U is “deeply committed to Title IX,” noting that the school has completed its own internal review of gender equity in sports, and is cooperating fully with the current federal investigation.
Perry Leo, a professor of aerospace engineering and mechanics who worked with Teague as a faculty athletics representative, cautioned against reading too much into the two discrimination complaints.
“I don’t think this is as uncommon as people think it is, suing for discrimination when you’re let go,” he said. Settlements don’t necessarily mean guilt, Leo said.
Former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson, who has been critical of Kaler’s administration, said university officials should held accountable.
“Somebody appointed Teague, somebody knew about his past misbehavior, and somebody refused to do anything about it,” he said. “It all goes back to the office of the president and the board of regents.”
Staff writer Dan Browning contributed to this report.