Female Football Kicker Wins Sexual Discrimination Case Against Duke
Posted October 11, 2000
GREENSBORO — A formerDuke Universitykicker who got booted from the football team won her court case Thursday. Heather Sue Mercer sued Duke for sexual discrimination. A federal jury agreed with Mercer's claim that she was cut from the team because she is a woman.
Jurors deliberated for a little more than two hours before deciding in favor of Mercer. A short time later, jurors ruled Duke must pay $1 in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages.
"Duke discriminated against me. They were wrong in their actions, and the jury found that," Mercer says. "Someone may walk softly, but that does not mean that you should ignore the whisper of their footsteps because they will be hurt."
Mercer had kicked the winning field goal during a scrimmage in 1995. Afterward, then-Duke head football coach Fred Goldsmith said she had made the team, but he cut Mercer a year later.
Mercer's lawyers say she was asked to kick the field goal because she was the best kicker on the team. They also claim Mercer was cut because of her gender.
University lawyers point to Mercer's presence in the game, saying that Goldsmith wanted her to succeed. University lawyers contend Mercer was cut because she could not keep up with Division I standards.
Nora Lynn Finch, N.C. State senior associate athletic director, says the verdict may reach beyond the borders of Duke.
"Some institutions may be more reluctant to have women try out for traditional all-male teams and may be less reluctant to have men try out for more all-women teams," she says.
Duke University issued a statement saying it is disappointed about the verdict and plans to appeal.
Mercer's lawyers did not suggest an amount, but told jurors, "You have already given Heather Sue something worth any sum of money."
Mercer now works for Charles Schwab & Co. in New York. Prior to the verdict, her lawyers told reporters Mercer wants to use any money that she is awarded to establish a scholarship fund for female placekickers. From staff and wire reports