United States District Court, D. Delaware
BONNIE J. KENNY and CINDY GREGORY, Plaintiffs,
UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE, et al., Defendants.
H. Williams, James H. McMackin, III, Allyson Britton DiRocco,
MORRIS JAMES, LLP, Wilmington, DE; Attorneys for Plaintiff
Taylor, Jr., SAUL EWING ARNSTEIN & LEHR, LLP, Wilmington,
DE; Christina D. Riggs, SAUL EWING ARNSTEIN & LEHR, LLP,
Philadelphia, PA; Attorneys for Defendant.
Andrews, U.S. District Judge.
Bonnie J. Kenny and Cindy Gregory sued Defendants the
University of Delaware ("UD"), Chrissi Rawak, and
Thomas LaPenta on August 17, 2017. (D.I. 1; Civ Act. No.
17-cv-01157-RGA, D.I. 1). Plaintiffs, a married lesbian
couple in their fifties, allege they were fired from their
coaching positions because of their age and sexual
orientation. (D.I. 1). Their lawsuits were consolidated on
April 13, 2018. (D.I. 20). Currently before the Court is
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (D.I. 70). The
matter has been fully briefed. (D.I. 71, 72, 78). Because
Plaintiffs have failed to show Defendants' stated reasons
for firing them were pretext for discrimination,
Defendants' motion is GRANTED.
was the head coach of UD's women's volleyball team,
and Gregory was the team's associate head coach. (D.I. 82
at 2). On October 13, 2016, in the middle of the volleyball
season, the university fired both coaches. (D.I. 82 at 3).
Plaintiffs allege (1) age discrimination, in violation of the
Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") and
the Delaware Discrimination in Employment Act
("DDEA"); and (2) sexual orientation
discrimination, in violation of the DDEA and the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (D.I. 1 at
14-17). Plaintiffs had initially alleged marital status
discrimination, but they now acknowledge that claim is
subsumed within their sexual orientation claim. (D.I. 72 at
hired Kenny and Gregory in 2002. (D.I. 82 at 2). By that
time, they were both experienced coaches, following stints at
other major universities. (Id.). Kenny and Gregory
had begun dating each other in 1996, while working at a
different university, and they married under Delaware's
same-sex marriage law in 2013. (D.I. 71, Ex. 3, hereinafter,
"Kenny Dep.," at 21, 27). While they didn't
publicize their relationship, they assumed many people knew.
(Id. at 28, 38-39).
coaches indisputably had success at UD, leading the team to
Colonial Athletic Association Championships in 2007, 2008,
2010, and 2011, and to four berths in the National Collegiate
Athletic Association tournament. (D.I. 69, Ex. E). But the
team's performance began slipping in 2013. The Blue Hens
posted losing records in 2013, 2014, and 2015.
(Id.). Throughout this period though, the student
athletes consistently performed well academically. (D.I. 71,
Ex. 7, hereinafter, "Rawak Dep.," at 88-89).
2016, UD hired Chrissi Rawak as athletic director. (D.I. 82
at 2). Two months later, Rawak met for the first time with
Kenny, who informed Rawak of an anonymous complaint filed by
a volleyball player in 2014. (Rawak Dep. at 12-13). According
to that complaint, Gregory had hugged and kissed players, and
the players were uncomfortable approaching either Gregory or
Kenny about the issue. (D.I. 73 at 409-411). Following an
investigation, Eric Ziady, UD's athletic director at the
time, barred Gregory from one-on-one meetings with student
athletes for one year and instructed her to refrain from any
physical contact with athletes. (D.I. 71, Ex. 9). Gregory and
Kenny deny the allegations. (D.I. 71, Ex. 4, hereinafter,
"Gregory Dep.," at 12). In the meeting with Rawak,
Kenny said the 2014 investigation had been difficult and was
not something she wanted to go through again. (Rawak Dep. at
September 2016, Rawak attended three volleyball games in
person and watched others online. (Id. at 25-26).
She also briefly attended two volleyball practices.
(Id.). She observed Kenny "yelling" at
players in a "very aggressive tone," and she
described Gregory as similarly "intense."
(Id. at 172-174). Rawak claims the athletes
"cowered" during the games and that they looked
"distraught, defeated, uncomfortable,
devalued." (Id. at 181).
then received two separate complaints about the coaches. The
first, dated September 28, 2016, was an anonymous letter
claiming that Kenny bullied players. (D.I. 71, Ex. 12.). A
few days later, a player's parents emailed Rawak to
complain that one or both coaches had forced their daughter
to lift weights while sick and had yelled at her for studying
before a game. (D.I. 71, Ex. 13). The parents also claimed
Kenny had shoved their daughter and that Gregory used weekly
one-on-one meetings to "belittle, berate and to
demean" her. (Id.). Plaintiffs dispute the
allegations, and suggest the player was upset about getting
less playing time. (D.I. 72 at 3).
October 5, 2016, Rawak met separately with both coaches.
(D.I. 82 at 3). Thomas LaPenta, UD's director of human
resources, attended both meetings. (Id.). At the
meetings, Rawak and LaPenta informed the coaches there were
allegations of misconduct and that they could either resign
or face a university investigation. (Kenny Dep. at 159-163,
229). Both coaches declined to resign, and they retained
counsel the following day. (D.I. 82 at 3). The university
placed the coaches on leave. (Rawak Dep. at 18).
then examined athlete responses to a university survey from
the previous season. She found the results "incredibly
alarming." (Rawak Dep. at 179). Ten out of thirteen
volleyball players said they were "sometimes" or
"often" subjected to coaching techniques that
involved verbal abuse. (D.I. 71, Ex. 16). Eleven out of
thirteen said the coaching techniques "sometimes"
or "often" involved mental abuse. (Id.).
reviewing those surveys, Rawak decided not to investigate the
complaints. (Id. at 137). Instead, on October 13,
2016, she fired both coaches "without
cause." (D.I. 82 at 3). In an October 16 press
release, the university publicly announced the departure of
the volleyball coaches, along with the head coach of the
football team. (D.I. 71, Ex. 17). At ...