Incoming Rutgers athletic director involved in discrimination lawsuit

Julie Hermann talks to the media after being introduced as Rutgers University athletic director on May 15, 2013 in Piscataway, New Jersey. Hermann, 49, most recently served as University of Louisville's senior associate athletic director. She replaces Tim Pernetti who resigned on April 5 in the wake of footage came to light of then-head basketball coach Mike Rice physically and verbally abusing his players during multiple practices.
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Updated 8:58 PM ET

NEWARK, N.J. Incoming Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann was involved in a discrimination lawsuit while an administrator at Louisville, where an assistant track coach said she was fired for complaining about discriminatory treatment.

Information about the case came to light Tuesday, amid continuing discussion about Hermann's treatment of players while she was a volleyball coach at Tennessee in the 1990s.

The earlier episodes from Hermann's career are particularly troubling for Rutgers, which hired her after former basketball coach Mike Rice was fired in April for physically and verbally abusing players and former athletic director Tim Pernetti was forced to resign for his handling of the problem.

The New York Times first reported on details of the Louisville suit which Mary Banker, a former assistant men's and women's track coach, filed against the University of Louisville Athletic Association, saying she was let go in 2008 after she complained to Hermann and then human resources about allegations of gender and sexual discrimination. Hermann was the executive senior associate athletic director for Louisville at the time.

Hermann testified at a 2010 jury trial about the dismissal. A jury found in Banker's favor, awarding her $300,000 for mental and emotional distress. But the university appealed and the Kentucky Court of Appeals overturned the verdict in February.

The appellate ruling in the case said that, "even in a light most favorable to Banker," Louisville proved Hermann and the head track coach, Ron Mann, "had contemplated, if not decided, not to renew Banker's contract prior to Banker's complaint to HR."

The case is now before the Kentucky Supreme Court, which has not yet decided whether to take it.

Besides the revelation of the sexual discrimination lawsuit, a member of the Rutgers' athletic director search committee said she was dumbfounded that the firm hired to vet potential candidates for the athletic director's job never uncovered the allegations by former Tennessee women's volleyball players that Hermann verbally abused players while she was their coach.

Yet, in another development on Tuesday, a high-ranking Tennessee official and a former graduate assistant each voiced support for Hermann during her tenure with the Vols.

Still, the Louisville lawsuit is bound to bring greater focus on the hiring of the 49-year-old Hermann, just days after the Star-Ledger of Newark reporter former players' claims that she humiliated and emotionally abused players while coaching Tennessee's women's volleyball team.

Hermann on Monday said that she has no plans to resign and Rutgers president Robert Barchi later said the university was standing behind her.

Whether Hermann stays or goes, the past two months have been a huge embarrassment for Rutgers, which was celebrating an invitation in November to join the Big Ten Conference in 2014.

After Rice was fired and Pernetti was forced to resign, the university said new basketball coach Eddie Jordan had a degree from Rutgers when he didn't. There was additional controversy when men's lacrosse coach Brian Brecht was suspended for verbally abusing his players following a university-wide investigation into all Scarlet Knights coaches. Brecht missed the final two games of the season.

Susan Schurman, dean of the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers, was on the search committee for the athletic director but out of the country for much of the process.

She said she was on one conference call during which the search firm briefed the members on how the process was going to work. She remembers the firm saying that they had "incredible interest" in the job and many qualified people were interested. No names were discussed. She also remembers that the committee was told they would be able to say if a candidate was acceptable, but would not actually vote on candidates.

Schurman read in the newspaper that Hermann's name wasn't among the 60 passed along from the search firm, which she found "interesting, because she's clearly a pretty prominent person."

"I wasn't on the executive committee, but I have to say the reason you hire executive search firms, at least when I was vetted for the job at Rutgers several years ago, they appeared to go back to kindergarten," she said. "One of the primary reasons for using a search firm is that they're supposed to completely vet a candidate for a senior management position, so I'm a little mystified as to why this comes from the press and not the search committee."

Schurman is not taking a position as to whether there is validity in the complaints against Hermann, because complaints and lawsuits are often filed against administrators and high-level university officials. But, she said, the search firm should have turned up that information.