Jody Mask, of counsel in Garcia & Karam in McAllen
Jody Mask, of counsel in Garcia & Karam in McAllen (Handout photo)

The University of Texas at Austin has denied all the allegations in a suit by an ex-coach who claimed the university discriminated against her by firing her for having a relationship with a student-athlete.

Beverly Kearney, head coach of women’s track and field for 21 years, claimed that other coaches, law professors, undergraduate professors and an administrator have had relationships with students or subordinate employees, but the incidents were “swept under the rug,” according to her Nov. 14 original petition.

Kearney, an African-American, also alleged UT Austin discriminated against her because of her race and gender, and retaliated because she reported discrimination.

But UT Austin argued in its Dec. 16 original answer in Kearney v. UT Austin that its “actions were reasonable and proper” under state law and that “it would have taken the same actions against plaintiff regardless of the alleged discrimination.”

Jody Mask is lead counsel for Kearney.

“We believe there is evidence of several other individuals, including coaches, that have had inappropriate relationships that were swept under the rug,” he said.

Kearney alleges that Major Applewhite, who she identifies as co-offensive coordinator for the Longhorns football team, among others, had such a relationship.

“In a nutshell it’s this: There was a double standard with the way Bev Kearney was treated in relation to Major Applewhite,” said Mask, of counsel at Garcia & Karam in McAllen.

Applewhite did not respond to an email seeking comment.

UT Austin spokesman Robert Meckel declined to comment on the lawsuit except to say that “the responsive pleadings speak for themselves.”

Mask said he thinks Kearney was terminated because she spoke out about discrimination in the athletics department.

“She’s the type of woman who sees something she thinks is wrong—she’s not afraid to speak up about it,” he said. “She became a thorn in the side of those that rule, and, ultimately, they had their excuse.”

Neither Geoff Gannaway, UT Austin cocounsel and a partner at Beck Redden in Houston, nor UT System interim general counsel Dan Sharphorn returned calls seeking comment.

Longhorn Litigation

Kearney sued UT Austin on Nov. 14 in Travis County district court.

She alleges that starting in 1994 Bubba Thornton, head coach for men’s track and field, spoke negatively to others about her character, professionalism and coaching abilities, according to the petition.

Kearney, who as coach won six NCAA national championships and many other awards and honors, claims that starting in 2004 she reported Thornton’s “harassment” to people in the athletics, human resources and other departments.

A working phone number for Thornton could not be located, and he did not respond to a message on LinkedIn.

Kearney also claims that from 2005 to 2012 she reported “her lack of pay increases,” although her male peers “all received very substantial raises.”

In October 2012, “Ms. Kearney was informed … that it had been reported that Ms. Kearney had had a relationship with a former student-athlete in approximately 2002,” according to her petition.

Kearney, who admitted the relationship, was placed on paid administrative leave in November 2012.

In separate interviews in November and December 2012, UT Austin attorneys questioned Kearney about her past “alleged NCAA violations,” of which she claims she was “cleared,” as well as her allegations of gender and race discrimination.

In late December 2012, university officials informed Kearney “she was being fired for a consensual relationship from approximately 10 years ago.” She resigned on Jan. 5, 2013.

Kearney, who alleges violations of Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code, is seeking compensatory and exemplary damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, costs and attorney fees. She also seeks a declaratory judgment that the university violated her rights and the law, and injunctive relief to prevent future violations.

In its answer, UT Austin argued that it has governmental immunity, Kearney “failed to mitigate her damages,” and her claims are time-barred, among other things.