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UNC Women's Soccer Coach Settles Sexual Harassment Suit

Posted January 14, 2008

— The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reached a settlement Monday in a decade-old sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the university and its women's soccer coach.

The settlement includes $385,000 to former soccer player Melissa Jennings who, along with another player, filed the suit alleging claims of sexual harassment, invasion of privacy and interference with religious rights against longtime coach Anson Dorrance.

Steve Kirschner, associate director of athletics for communications at the university, also confirmed that the settlement includes Dorrance issuing an apology to all of his players for inappropriate discussions of a sexual nature.

Dorrance has said he participated in banter of a "jesting or teasing nature" with groups of players. He apologized to Jennings for the comments 10 years ago, according to a university news release issued Monday.

"Since August 1998, I have looked forward to clearing my name in court," Dorrance said in the release. "That is still true today. I understand, though, that after nine years of litigation, it is best for the university, our soccer program and all of us involved in this case for it to end here."

UNC athletic Director Dick Baddour said the settlement does not constitute an admission of anything beyond what Dorance apologized for in 1998.

"The state's attorneys and the university¹s attorneys and representatives were confident in the outcome of a trial," he said. The case has lasted more than nine years. Ending it now enables everyone to move forward."

Jennings, a walk-on reserve goalkeeper for two seasons, alleged in her lawsuit that Dorrance harassed team members by asking about their sexual activity. She claimed that during a one-on-one meeting to discuss her academic and athletic progress, Dorrance bluntly asked about her sex life.

Daniel Konicek, an Illinois attorney who represented Jennings, said the financial settlement was significant considering there was no allegations of physical contact and Dorrance was not fired. He also said the lawsuit raised national awareness of sexual-harassment issues involving college athletes.

"Melissa's life has changed," Konicek told The Associated Press. "She wants to get on with her life. Litigation is a tough deal. She's been fighting for almost 10 years. She put up a good fight. In the long run she finished the race."
Jennings said Dorrance created an environment that violated the federal Title IX law by denying her the benefits of collegiate sports.

The settlement is intended to reimburse her for most of the attorney¹s fees she accumulated over the nine-year history of the suit, the university said. The athletic department will pay the settlement from its 2007-08 operating budget.

Dorrance, who still coaches the Tar Heels, is the nation's most decorated women's soccer coach, having led the team to 19 national championships since 1979. He was also the coach of the women's national team from 1986-1994, leading them to a gold medal in 1991 at the inaugural women's World Cup tournament.
Dorrance and star forward Mia Hamm won NCAA championships each year she was at North Carolina from 1989 to 1993. Other star players he has coached include April Heinrichs, Kristine Lilly, Carla Overbeck, Lindsay Tarpley and Cat Reddick.

A federal judge dismissed the Jennings case in 2004, but the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals revived it last year and sent the case back to the court for a jury trial.

"We have never believed that the case had any merit," UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser said. "We¹ve stood by Coach Dorrance since this case started, and we stand by him now."

In 2004, the university settled Debbie Keller, the other player who filed the lawsuit, for $70,000, a written apology and under the term that Dorrance attend sensitivity training for eight years.

41 Comments

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  • oldDave Jan 15, 8:42 a.m.

    The other player, Debbie Keller, REALLY got hosed over because of this. She was on the National (USA) team, had scored 14 goals in 1998 for the USA (2nd on the team), she at least showed promise and in some folks eyes was a rising star. Then she is party to this lawsuit, and suddenly, without any explanation I ever came across, is dropped from the USA team. As in 'no you cannot play'. I cannot explain that, except to say Dorrance has a long reach, or put another way Dorrance had a lot of power on the US soccer scene in 1998. For some reason, the word intimidation comes to mind.... as applies to then UNC players and signing a we love Dorrance letter. Its nasty!. Say anything out of line about him, you get blacklisted. And Yes, I saw Keller play, she was better than good.

  • haggis basher Jan 14, 8:13 p.m.

    He had admitted to it so its not a he said she said issue. The Girls have tried for ten years to get justice. Who can blame them settling now? He was in a position of power and it may have appeared to the Girls that he was interested in "favours". Even if this was not intended it was still completely inappropriate.

  • TarheelTurtle Jan 14, 5:54 p.m.

    Poundcake scotty...aren't you a little old for myspace? Here's how this works...Anson was ACCUSED in a CIVIL lawsuit, not criminal. 2 courts decided that there was no basis for a lawsuit. It was appealed, then sent to a higher court. Split decision, schedule a court date. UNC settles to stop the madness. Get it? He wouldn't be charged with anything because it wasn't a CRIMINAL lawsuit.

  • cjtheump Jan 14, 5:53 p.m.

    Typical liberal politically correct cave in by UNC-CH.

  • TarheelTurtle Jan 14, 5:45 p.m.

    ScoDan: I'll address your question on the court issue, however as far as your nasty comment on "services" I will let that go as you have NO class.
    This case was heard by 3 separate district and appellate courts. The first 2 decided the case had NO MERIT (aka) frivolous. The 3rd court split. Settlement does not equal guilt.
    Would you be able to afford legal fees for 9 years of litigation? I doubt it.
    As for sweeping it under the rug, this is a national story with far-reaching implications. How is that sweeping it under the rug? NO GUILT was, nor ever will be admitted to because there simply was nothing to admit.
    And before you ask, yeah. I know him personally.

  • whatelseisnew Jan 14, 5:37 p.m.

    The coach should foot the bill for everything related to this case.

  • ScoDan Jan 14, 5:37 p.m.

    turtle..how could you say he wouldnt be charged with anything if it went to court....UNC didnt want it to go to court and paid them off.

  • ScoDan Jan 14, 5:36 p.m.

    A settlement = guilty!!!! Wow Carolina pays out again..and sweeps it under the rug. This rug is sure bumpy now!!! Thanking him for his services...are we talking on or off the field?

  • TarheelTurtle Jan 14, 5:24 p.m.

    Frivolous lawsuit. In this case, the payout wasn't an admission of guilt on Dorrance's part or that of UNC's. Had this gone to court, I truly believe sexual harrassment would not have been proven. Anson is a wonderful coach and man. The fact that his brother dated a Carolina soccer player has nothing to do with how he conducts himself. Coach, friend, mentor. GOOD GUY, and I for one feel like this is a moral victory for the UNC women's soccer program.
    BTW: The Athletic Department's operating budget will pay the $385k, not your tax dollars or tuition, so get another argument.

  • defeyent Jan 14, 4:21 p.m.

    This is a big pile of horse manure and another example of the crock of political correctness taught since the end of the 80s. This is what you get for pushing political correctness instead of truth and respect first. We taught ourselves to expect the teachers and coaches to take on some roles that used to be only the parents but once they do excercise some parental roles or take it upon themselves to discuss sex stuff we expect that they should be sued. This politically correct, "It takes a Village," socialist krappola about it being everybody's fault except the kid that is rude enough to discuss sex stuff with her coach that makes this lawsuit possible. It's our fault that we let things get this way and it needs to stop.

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