KNOXVILLE (CN) - The plaintiffs in a discrimination suit against the University of Tennessee can't invoke the name of beloved former women's basketball coach Pat Summitt in their complaint, a magistrate judge ruled.
Collin Schlosser, Jenny Moshak and Heather Mason sued the university in October 2012, claiming they were fired or demoted during a consolidation of the men's and women's athletics departments "because of their gender or association with women's sports."
Their complaint goes on to describe the university's alleged attitude regarding women and women's athletics, and then charges the school forced Summit, who holds the all-time wins record for a coach in NCAA history, to retire early.
"In doing so, UT and [UT Athletics Director Dave] Hart eliminated one of the most prominent and influent leaders in the history of NCAA women's intercollegiate athletics, who was perhaps the only woman at UT with the standing and influence to challenge or oppose the actions of UT and Mr. Hart," the plaintiff's say.
The university cried foul, contending the only reason the plaintiffs mentioned Summitt is to "inflame passions" against UT and its athletics director, the ruling states.
Summitt, who in 38 years as coach never had a losing season, announced in August 2011, that she had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Despite her diagnosis - she famously declared "there's not going to be a pity party" -- Summitt coached one final season before stepping down as head coach on April 18, 2012.
To this day she serves as "head coast emeritus" of the Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team.
Earlier this week a federal magistrate judge sided with the university, granting its motion to strike that paragraph from the plaintiffs' complaint.
"Coach Summitt's voluntary retirement is immaterial to the plaintiffs' gender discrimination and retaliatory discharge claims and the allegation in paragraph 49 serves only to inflame the passions of potential jurors by invoking Coach Summitt's reputation and her alleged mistreatment," Judge Bruce Guyton wrote. "The court must conclude that the allegation in paragraph 49 constitutes an attempt to create a scandal around Coach Summitt where none exists, and one which is wholly irrelevant to the plaintiffs' claims."
Not only are the claims about Summitt irrelevant, but the storied coach has said she chose to retire, the judge said.
"Coach Summitt was neither terminated nor demoted, she has not filed any suit alleging discrimination, and she stated in a sworn declaration that she voluntarily chose to retire from her position as head coach," Guyton wrote.
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