Local News

UNC Women's Soccer Coach Settles Sexual Harassment Suit

Posted January 14, 2008 12:27 p.m. EST
Updated January 14, 2008 6:31 p.m. EST

— 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.