Appeals court rejects claim of sexual harassment
RICHMOND, Va. -- A divided federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a judge's decision to dismiss a sexual harassment lawsuit against University of North Carolina women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance.
In a 2-1 ruling, the court rejected Melissa Jennings' claim that Dorrance's vulgar language and inappropriate comments to players created a sexually hostile educational environment.
"Dorrance never touched, never threatened, never ogled, and never propositioned Jennings," visiting U.S. District Judge James Dever III of North Carolina wrote in the majority opinion. Dever concluded that "no reasonable jury could find that Dorrance sexually harassed Jennings."
Judge M. Blane Michael said, however, that U.S. District Judge N. Carlton Tilley Jr. erred in throwing out the lawsuit.
"Because Jennings has proffered facts showing that the soccer team environment was persistently degrading and humiliating to her and to other young women, she is entitled to a trial," Michael wrote in a dissenting opinion.
Jennings, a walk-on reserve goalkeeper for two seasons, alleged 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.
Dever wrote that the query "clearly was inappropriate," but he added: "The question was not physically threatening and not a sexual proposition. Rather, it was an offensive utterance from a coach to a player in the context of inquiring about Jennings' poor grades -- grades that were so poor that she believed her athletic eligibility was in jeopardy."
Dorrance denied making the remark but acknowledged in an apology letter that he participated in sexual banter of a "jesting or teasing nature" with groups of players.
Jennings filed the lawsuit after Dorrance cut her from the team in 1998. The coach told Jennings she was not meeting expectations on the field or in the classroom.