The Minnesota Court of Appeals today reversed a lower court and ruled against a former University of Minnesota associate women’s golf coach who sued the university for taking away her coaching duties after learning she is a lesbian.
Kathryn Brenny sued former U of M golf director John Harris and the Board of Regents after she was dropped from coaching and offered a sales job at TCF Bank Stadium instead.
Harris, who resigned his position last summer, had appealed a lower court decision that rejected his bid to dismiss allegations against him for interfering in her contract.
Today, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled the allegations of interference in the contract are not subject to district court review:
According to respondent, her problems began on the first day of her employment and continued for approximately the next two months, culminating when she concluded that she was constructively discharged. During this period, respondent initiated and attended numerous meetings with appellant and other university supervisory employees, who responded to her complaints by first warning her to “get on board” with appellant’s leadership of the women’s golf program, and eventually by reassigning her to a position outside of the golf program. The decisions of respondent’s superiors, including appellant, were made within the scope of their employment. As such, delving into the underlying motivations for appellant’s conduct would impermissibly inquire into the university’s exercise of discretion to hire, manage, or dismiss its employees.
In a dissent,
Justice Judge Lawrence Stauber said the lower court had good cause to reject Harris’ bid to throw the lawsuit out.
According to Ms. Brenny, from the moment Mr. Harris learned of her sexual orientation, he effectively and completely blocked her from performing her job, for which she was well-qualified, and unilaterally revoked nearly all of her contracted job duties as head coach of the women’s golf team. Mr. Harris allegedly stated that he would not permit Ms. Brenny to travel with the team to tournaments because he “discovered [that] she was a homosexual and did not want her on the road with the team.” Thus, if she can prove her allegations, Mr. Harris’ 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. Indeed, Mr. Harris’ decision was made before Ms. Brenny had a chance to perform any of her job duties. As such, Mr. Harris’ conduct was “separate and distinct” from the university’s employment decision and is not subject to the same limited certiorari review.
Brenny can still attempt to sue through a higher court, but only if an appeals court agrees to hear a case. It said to do otherwise would violate a separation-of-powers doctrine.