Court rules jury should hear suit against Dorrance

RALEIGH, N.C. -- A jury should hear the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former North Carolina soccer player against her coach, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

Melissa Jennings has accused Anson Dorrance of sexually harassing team members by asking about their sexual activity. Jennings, a walk-on reserve goalkeeper for two seasons, also said the harassment broke Title IX laws by limiting her ability to take advantage of collegiate athletics.

In a rare decision from the entire 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., 10 judges decided that Jennings should get a jury trial on the sexual harassment and Title IX charges. Two judges dissented.

"It was sort of a daily torment," her attorney, Daniel Konicek of Geneva, Ill., said Monday. "Nobody should have to endure that in order to enjoy the benefits of collegiate athletics."

That decision came nine years after Jennings and another player, Debbie Keller, sued Dorrance, the university and officials who dealt with her harassment accusations. Keller settled her portion of the case in March 2004.

U.S. District Court Judge N. Carlton Tilley Jr. in Greensboro had dismissed Jennings' lawsuit in October 2004.

"We've been waiting and waiting," Konicek said. "It's been a long, hard fight."

A spokesman for the university didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment Monday.

Jennings, who now works as a school teacher and part-time soccer coach in the Chicago area, claimed that during a one-on-one meeting to discuss her academic and athletic progress, Dorrance bluntly asked about her sex life. Dorrance cut her from the team in 1998.

In an opinion written by M. Blane Michael, judges determined that Jennings and her lawyers produced significant facts to show that Dorrance subjected her to sexual harassment and that the harassment may have created a hostile or abusive environment.

Dorrance, still the coach for the Tar Heels, denied making the remark but acknowledged in an apology letter that he participated in sexual banter of a "jesting or teasing nature" with groups of players.

Dorrance, the most successful women's soccer coach in U.S. college history, has coached the Tar Heels to 19 national championships in 27 seasons since 1979, including a national title last season. He also coached the women's national team from 1986-1994, leading them to a gold medal in 1991 at the inaugural women's World Cup.