Monday, April 09, 2007, 10:42 PM

En Banc 4th Circuit Rules Against UNC and its Women's Soccer Coach in Sexual Harassment Case

Today the en banc 4th Circuit issued its awaited decision in Jennings v. University of North Carolina, a sexual harassment case by a former member of UNC's women's soccer team against UNC's soccer coach Anson Dorrance and the University.

The Court reversed the summary judgment awarded to the defendants. It was an 8-2 decision written by Judge Michael (two judges were recused).

The Court rejected UNC's argument that Dorrance's sex-focused comments were merely of a joking or teasing nature. The Court chronicled allegations of Dorrance's alleged crude, sex-oriented comments and physical contact with members of the soccer team. The Court held that a jury could find his conduct sufficiently severe and pervasive to create a hostile environment in the women's soccer program. The Court also found sufficient evidence that UNC was deliberately indifferent, thus enabling the imputation of liability to UNC.

Significantly, the Court relied on Dorrance's sexually explicit comments directed to other players on the team, not to Jennings, insofar as those comments were overhead by Jennings or consistent with her account.

The dissent concluded that Dorrance's comments were sexual banter that didn't have any discriminatory effect because they didn't deny Jennings any educational opportunity or benefit (a showing required to advance a successful Title IX claim).

The next step is a trial---unless the case settles first.

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