Court Case: Jennings v. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Case Adopted 11/07

Case Update 01/08:
On Jan. 14, 2008 the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reached a settlement, including $385,000 to former soccer player Melissa Jennings.

Case History

Melissa Jennings, a former member of the women’s soccer team and a former student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from August 1996 until May 1998, sued the University alleging that the head coach of the soccer team, Anson Dorrance, sexually harassed her. She seeks to hold the University liable for his actions.

The evidence indicates that Dorrance used vulgar language and participated in sexual banter at practice with some of the players. There is no evidence that Dorrance ever touched, threatened, ogled, or propositioned Jennings.

In the fall of 1996, Jennings met with Susan Ehringhaus, the Assistant to the Chancellor and Senior University Counsel. Jennings told her about Dorrance’s actions. Ehringhaus advised Jennings to talk to Dorrance about the issues. Jennings alleges that Dorrance continued to sexually harass the players.

In May 1998, Dorrance cut Jennings from the soccer team. That same month, Jennings’ father wrote a letter to Ehringhaus expressing his concern about Dorrance’s behavior. Ehringhuas forwarded the letter to Richard Baddour, the Athletic Director. Soon thereafter, the University began an investigation. In June 1998, Baddour wrote Jennings a letter stating that Dorrance admitted to participating in group discussions of a “jesting or teasing nature” with soccer team members. Baddour’s letter also stated that the University told Dorrance that his behavior was inappropriate and that an “appropriate intervention” had occurred with Dorrance. It does not appear that the University reprimanded Dorrance in any other manner. In August 1998, Jennings filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of North Carolina.

The University filed a motion for summary judgment. The Middle District Court of North Carolina awarded summary judgment to the defendants. The panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision. After granting Jennings’ petition for rehearing en banc, the Fourth Circuit reversed the panel decision. Now, the University has filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court.

Key Case Issues
Sexual Harassment in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.