Julie Hermann remains under fire

Incoming Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann, already accused of abusive behavior toward student-athletes during her time as the women's volleyball coach at Tennessee, is the focus of another lawsuit -- this one during her time at Louisville in 2008.

According to a report in The New York Times, assistant track and field coach Mary Banker approached Hermann, who was then a senior athletics administrator at Louisville, about what she thought was sexist behavior and "discriminatory treatment" by head coach Ron Mann. After taking her concerns to human resources, Banker was fired within three weeks.

According to the legal filings obtained by The Times, Hermann initially was supportive of Banker after hearing of her complaints. In an email to Banker, Hermann wrote: "Thank you ... We're lucky to have you ... You're a change agent ... don't let their limitations take you out of the game ... thank god you're here."

According to a filing, Hermann expressed concern after Banker went to HR with her complaints about Mann.

"Hermann called Banker into her office and flat-out told her, 'You should not have gone to HR,' " the filing states, adding that Hermann allegedly told Banker: "I don't know how I'm going to restore trust in you amongst staff now," and "I don't know how you're going to work downstairs after this."

On Monday, Rutgers president Robert Barchi gave a vote of confidence for Hermann, and supporters defended her as a strong leader and advocate for women after it came to light that Hermann had been sued by former Tennessee volleyball assistant coach Ginger Hineline in the 1990s. According to the suit, Hineline accused Hermann of discouraging her from getting pregnant. Hineline was awarded $150,000 in a settlement in 1997.

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich told ESPN, "In 15½ years, I never had one problem" with Hermann. "She did impeccable work for us. No one has said anything the past 15 years. She is beloved here."

Joan Cronan, Tennessee women's AD emeritus, also voiced support for Hermann, claiming in a statement that she does not "recall it being an abusive situation."

"I hold Julie Hermann in high regard, and I believe she is well-prepared for her new role at Rutgers University," Cronan wrote in her statement, according to MyCentralJersey.com. "My recollection of the time Julie was at the University of Tennessee is that it was a very frustrating time for everyone connected with the volleyball program, which had performed far below our expectations. However, I do not recall it being an abusive situation."

Also, two former Tennessee women's volleyball players from the 1991 Vols team spoke out Tuesday night in support of Hermann.

Tamala Brightman and Karen Dyer told ESPN.com that they never experienced any form of verbal or physical abuse from Hermann. Brightman finished her career in 1993 while Dyer was done in '91, both short of the '96 season in which the team made the allegations against Hermann.

"We affectionately called her Jule, not coach Hermann or Julie,'' said Brightman, who now lives outside of Memphis. "She had a mentoring side. She was a disciplined coach, but fundamentals were the key. We had intense practices. But there were never any signs of abuse. Being an African-American female at the University of Tennessee, you're on guard and you're watching for things. I didn't see any abuse or witness any or was the recipient of any. She worked us hard. But for this to come out now and an attempt made to prevent her from achieving a position earned over these years is shocking."

Dyer said Hermann, who coached her just for her senior year in Hermann's first season as head coach, was a "welcomed relief for our team and our program.'' Dyer called Hermann a great leader.

"She was the consummate professional,'' said Dyer, who lives in Atlanta. "She was never abusive. She was interested in developing players as people. This is completely opposite of the person I know. My experience was great with her. Now as I look back, I'm grateful she was my coach. I don't know any of these young ladies. But I never heard about any of this. Her whole character is so opposite of what I'm hearing out there.''

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on his "Ask the Governor" radio show that he spoke with Barchi, board of directors Ralph Izzo and Rutgers legal counsel John Farmar Jr., a former state attorney general, over the weekend.

"It's not my call," Christie said during the interview on 101.5 WKXW. "I'm confident in president Barchi's judgment and chairman Izzo and general counsel John Farmar. I spoke with all three of them in great detail and made it very clear to handle this decision as they see fit."

Christie said he's not going to "micro manage" every decision at Rutgers.

"I have absolute confidence in Bob Barchi," Christie said. "He's the right man for the job. I have complete support for him and for him to make the right decisions. He came out very forcefully in support for Julie Hermann. I'm in support of the board and president Barchi. I don't know her and I wasn't involved in the recruiting of her."

Christie also defended Hermann over the New York Times' story.

"She was not named in the suit,'' Christie said. "She was a witness. She was not a defendant in the case. The lawsuit was dismissed by the appellate court. Let's not engage in character assassination. The letter the Star Ledger has isn't signed by the players. The fact that the former Tennessee AD said they never received the letter. Julie Hermann said she never received the letter. What are we supposed to believe?"

According to The Times, Banker sued the University of Louisville Athletic Association after she was fired. The lawsuit held Hermann largely responsible for that decision.

After a trial, a jury awarded Banker $300,000 plus attorney's fees. But in February, a Kentucky appeals court overturned the decision, ruling Banker did not prove that Louisville officials had retaliated against her. Banker's attorney, Bryan Cassis, has appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court. Lawyers for the Louisville athletic department argued Banker was fired because of poor job performance.

Rutgers spokesman Greg Trevor told The Times that Hermann had discussed Banker's lawsuit with the co-chairman of the search committee and the university counsel's office. Hermann previously told ESPN she discussed the Tennessee lawsuit with the school's search firm.

Louisville spokesman Kenny Klein said the school cannot talk about pending litigation.

ESPN.com's Andy Katz contributed to this report.

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