KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee filed for a protective order Friday in district court, forbidding discovery of information related to former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt’s illness and circumstances surrounding her decision to retire as coach.
The motion is related to Debby Jennings’ lawsuit against the university and athletic director Dave Hart. Jennings alleged “unlawful discrimination and retaliation” after her abrupt departure in May of 2012 from the UT athletic department, which she served for more than 35 years as the primary media contact for Lady Vols athletics.
In April of 2012, Summitt stepped down after 38 seasons to become head coach emeritus for the Lady Vols. She announced in August of 2011 that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
Jennings’ suit contends that her opposition to Hart’s treatment of Summitt was a factor in Hart’s decision to give Jennings the choice during a May 15, 2012 meeting to be fired for “insubordination,” resign or retire from her position as associate athletics director for media relations.
UT counsel Edward G. Phillips certified that he met with Jennings’ attorney David B. Burkhalter in an effort to resolve without court action dispute over the scope of the discovery related to the suit.
Friday’s filing included statements from Hart, chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Summitt’s son, Tyler.
Hart said that on March 14, 2012, he met with Summitt and gave her the option to continue coaching or retire, with the chance of being head coach emeritus. Hart said that Tyler called after the meeting saying his mother was upset and telling others that Hart had told her she would not be back as coach. Hart said that he told Tyler that Summitt had misunderstood their conversation.
Tyler Summitt said that he met with Hart before the athletic director’s aforementioned meeting with Pat Summitt and was advised of the options that would be presented to her. Tyler Summitt said that suspected his mother had misunderstood her conversation with Hart. Following his conversation with Hart, Tyler Summitt also said that he talked with his mother and she acknowledged that she “must have misunderstood.”
Jennings’ suit had been amended to include a sworn affidavit from Pat Summitt notarized Aug. 10, 2012, saying that Hart told her that he planned to name Holly Warlick head coach. Pat Summitt described the meeting as “surprising” and “very hurtful.”
Two days later, Summitt issued a statement intended to clarify “some misunderstandings.” Summitt said she wasn’t forced out as head coach and that it was “entirely my decision” to step down.