Judge declares mistrial in Jenkins suit

A D.C. Superior Court judge declared a mistrial Dec. 19 in a discrimination suit that would have cost GW $42,000 in damages for charges against Athletic Director Jack Kvancz.

Judge Joan Zeldon threw out the case because the jury issued “conflicting verdicts” in response to two key questions she issued. Jurors answered “no” to the question of whether discrimination occurred. But in the second question, the jury said Jacqueline Jenkins was forced to quit, or “constructively discharged” from, her position as head athletic trainer because of discrimination.

“In a sense we won, we won money,” plaintiff lawyer Meredith Frances said in an interview. “But the judge cannot enforce the verdict.”

Jenkins filed suit in May 2000 after leaving GW because of what she called gender discrimination when she was unable to assign herself to work with the men’s basketball team.

Jenkins’ lawyer Michael Kane argued in court that Kvancz conspired with former head basketball coach Tom Penders to assign Chris Hennelly, a former assistant trainer, to the position.

Hennelly currently serves as head athletic trainer and works with the men’s basketball team.

Kvancz shook his head in court when Kane accused him of telling Jenkins she couldn’t work with men’s basketball because of “a gender issue,” and denied during testimony that he made that statement.

“As you will see, the old boys’ network was at play,” Kane said in court. “When Jackie went to interview about the position of head athletic trainer, the decision had already been made by old friends. The die had been cast, but Jackie didn’t know that.”

Kvancz testified that Jenkins accepted the job knowing that she would not be able to work with the men. GW athletic officials testified that they had planned to put the new head trainer, regardless of gender, with the women’s basketball team during the 1999-2000 season, Jenkins’ first season as head trainer, to increase morale.

The women’s basketball team had failed to make the NCAA Tournament the year before, Kvancz said, and needed a morale boost because of coaching problems.

Kvancz and GW have two weeks to file post-trial motions for a verdict in their favor, according to the court order issued Dec. 20. Plaintiff lawyers can then respond. Unless the defense wins a motion, the case will be retried.

Zeldon will decide if there will be a retrial at a status hearing scheduled for May 17.

“We’re assuming they’re going to have a new trial,” Frances said.

She said lawyers could not speak with jurors to find out how they reached the unusual verdict.

Jenkins, who worked six years as an assistant trainer, sought damages because she said she was denied career and personal rights by being unable to work with men’s basketball, the premier sport at GW.

During the trial, Kane said Jenkins filed a grievance with GW but was ignored.

Defense attorney Karen Khan said during her closing statement that Jenkins “had no right” to assign herself to the men’s basketball team.

“This is a promotion to the premier position, head athletic trainer,” Khan said, adding Jenkins admitted during testimony that Kvancz and Assistant Athletic Director Susie Jones had the right to change her assignment. “This case is about an athletic director and assistant athletic director making a decision about one of their teams.”

GW law professor Michael Selmi said it is becoming “increasingly frequent” to ask juries two questions to determine a discrimination case.

“The law is complicated as far as proving discrimination,” Selmi said, adding that judges attempt to simplify a case by asking separate questions.

“But as you can see in this case it didn’t simplify things,” he said.

Kane, who led Jenkins’ case, said contradicting verdict is uncommon in civil cases.

“It’s just part of the whole procedure,” he said. “We’re ready to do the whole thing again.”

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