In the weeks since Rutgers hired Julie Hermann to forge a new path for the university's athletics program, which was still reeling from the fallout of an abusive coach scandal, Rutgers officials have unexpectedly had to defend their selection of Hermann against accusations of her misconduct dating to a coaching job she held in the 1990s.
But Hermann was also at the center of a 2008 sex discrimination lawsuit at Louisville, where she served as a senior athletics administrator. In that case, an assistant track and field coach said she went to Hermann to complain of what she considered sexist behavior and "discriminatory treatment" by the head coach. Within three weeks of her taking her concerns to Louisville's human resources department, the assistant coach, Mary Banker, was fired.
The lawsuit, which holds Hermann largely responsible for the decision to fire Banker, is likely to intensify the roiling dispute at Rutgers over the hiring of Hermann in the wake of the Mike Rice case. Rice, the former men's basketball coach, was shown berating players at practice in video first broadcast by ESPN. The video led to the firing of Rice and the resignation of Tim Pernetti, the athletic director, after he and other Rutgers officials were criticized for suspending Rice rather than firing him when they first learned of the video.
Rice's replacement, Eddie Jordan, also had a rocky start to his new job; the website Deadspin reported that he had not graduated from Rutgers, despite his university bio saying that he had. Jordan was a star on the basketball team, leading it to its only Final Four appearance, in 1976.
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State legislators and other critics have said that Rutgers should not have hired Hermann based on accounts of her treatment of players on the volleyball team she coached at Tennessee in the mid-1990s.
Greg Trevor, a spokesman for Rutgers, said Hermann had discussed the lawsuit with Richard Edwards, the co-chairman of the search committee, as well as the university counsel's office, before her hiring.
Hermann did not respond to an email.
In 2008, Banker sued the university's athletic department, saying she had been subjected to discriminatory treatment because of her sex. She said she was terminated after voicing her concerns to Hermann, according to the complaint in Kentucky state court.
Among her concerns: the male coaches would refer to student-athletes with words that were derogatory toward women. She also said that because she was female she was instructed by the head coach, Ron Mann, to set up party tables and make food arrangements for recruiting lunches.
After a trial, in which Hermann testified, a jury awarded Banker $300,000 in emotional distress damage and lost wages, plus attorney fees. A Kentucky appeals court overturned the verdict, saying that Banker did not prove that Louisville officials had retaliated against her. Banker's lawyer, Bryan Cassis of Louisville, is now asking the Kentucky Supreme Court to hear the case.