For almost twenty years, Beverly Kearny was the head coach for women’s track and field at the University of Texas at Austin, leading the Lady Longhorns to six NCAA Championships. On January 5, 2013, she resigned after the University approached her about an intimate relationship she had with an adult female student ten years prior. Coincidentally, she was up for a promotion and contract extension.
Due to the lapse in time since the affair, Ms. Kearny is calling foul. She alleges that her forced resignation was unlawful because a male teacher would not have suffered the same fate. The University responded that she was not asked to resigned because of the affair, but because she did not report it in accordance with the University’s employment policy. Furthermore, it claims not to be aware of any man who remained employed after violating the same provision that resulted in Ms. Kearny’s termination.
The general rule of an employment relationship is that an employer or employee may terminate for any reason or no reason at all. Several exceptions to this rule exist, including sex discrimination as a reason for termination. Although the facts imply a contractual relationship rather than an employment at will relationship, she does not appear to implicate a breach of a contract. In such case, she has to prove the existence of sex discrimination to claim unlawful conduct by the University. In other words, Ms. Kearny will have to present examples of male teachers or coaches who were not terminated for failing to report an affair with a student.
While the law doesn’t place the burden on the University to prove non-discriminatory conduct, it implicitly has such burden. Some jurors have a tendency to favor the employee unless proven otherwise. And if Ms. Kearney can articulate examples, the employer will have to prove a distinction along with non-discriminatory conduct.
Now for the consciousness. Ms. Kearny is a minority in her profession not only because she is female, but also because she is black and a homosexual. That alone sparks debate over her termination. However, many people in social media have supported the University’s position. According to them, her actions were unethical because she abused her authority as a teacher. Since, however, the University did not discourage such relationships and claims Ms. Kearny was terminated for failing to report it ten years ago, is it still justified?