August 26, 1998
The News & Observer
Suit accuses Dorrance of harassment
By Chip Alexander and Steve Elling; Staff Writers
CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolina women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance, who has led the Tar
Heels to 15 national championships in the past 17 years, has been named in a $12 million lawsuit
by two former players who charged him with sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct.
The civil suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago by Debbie Keller and Melissa
Jennings, Illinois natives. It names Dorrance, three assistant women's soccer coaches and other
university officials, including Chancellor Michael Hooker, claiming university leaders were aware of
Dorrance's conduct but failed to intercede.
Jennings and Keller, a former NCAA All-America and current member of the U.S. women's national
team, seek $1 million each in compensatory damages and a collective $10 million in punitive
They also are seeking a permanent injunction barring Dorrance from any athletic team or program
where he would come in contact with female athletes or minors.
Among the allegations are that Dorrance subjected Keller and Jennings to sexual harassment
beginning in 1993; twice made uninvited sexual advances to Keller and inappropriately touched
Keller; made lewd and sexually explicit comments about other team members in the players'
presence and interrogated UNC team members about their sexual activities; encouraged Jennings
to drink alcohol; and condoned underage drinking by team members.
Dorrance, who has coached at UNC since 1979, vehemently denied the thrust of the allegations
during a news conference Tuesday night and said he decided to speak out immediately in order to
clear his name and the program's reputation.
"Obviously, this is incredibly humiliating and embarrassing," said Dorrance, 47, who is married
and has three children. "I have never and would never abuse my position in any way. These
allegations are tremendously misleading. We intend to defend our position."
Athletics director Dick Baddour said the school had "thoroughly" investigated the accusations and
found no merit to the harassment charges. Neither Dorrance nor Baddour offered comment on the
specifics of the case, citing the advice of the State Attorney General's Office, which will handle the
Dorrance was asked if at any time during his Carolina tenure he had had a sexual relationship
with any player from UNC or the U.S. national women's team.
"Certainly not," he said.
At least a dozen members of Dorrance's current team showed up to defend the coach, who will
begin his 20th season at UNC on Sept. 4. Beth Sheppard, a senior who played with Keller and
Jennings, said she felt "betrayed" by her former teammates.
"I'm definitely feeling shaken by this," she said. "It hurts that they would make these accusations.
"He doesn't hide the fact that we're family or that he cares about us. I can't see how it could be
viewed as harassment."
Dorrance, who has built a near-flawless career record of 417-16-11 at UNC, was named one of the
25 most influential people in the history of American soccer by Soccer America magazine. He
guided the United States to the FIFA women's world championship in 1991.
Jennings, a goalkeeper, said in the suit that she was dropped from the team by Dorrance in May
in retaliation for making complaints to Hooker, university counsel Susan Ehringhaus, Baddour and
former athletics director John Swofford, now the ACC commissioner. The suit says that despite
repeated complaints, the university failed to fire Dorrance.
Jennings, who still attends UNC, refused to comment Tuesday night, referring all calls to her
Efforts to reach Keller were unsuccessful. A person who answered the phone at the home of
Keller's parents in Naperville, Ill., said she was out of the country. Keller on Tuesday was named to
the official U.S. national team roster for next month's U.S. Women's Cup.
An attorney for the two players would not comment on the case.
"I don't feel we're in a position to comment because we're in a position of litigation," said Marcelline
DeFalco, one of the three attorneys involved with the suit.
DeFalco estimated that it could take 60 days for the defendants named in the suit to be served
and respond. No court date has been set. Baddour said the players' attorneys recently offered to
settle out of court before the case was filed, but that UNC quickly declined.
Swofford said he was surprised by the claims against Dorrance.
"I never received any indication or even hints of sexual harrassment during my time in Chapel Hill,"
said Swofford, who left UNC in 1997 to become the ACC commissioner.
Baddour said the two players initially complained to UNC officials about about several of the lesser
allegations. Late in the summer, however, the attorneys for the two players added the harassment
charges. Baddour said the players who filed the suit have not been interviewed by UNC since then.
"From that point on, we didn't have access," Baddour said. "The sexual misconduct charges came
The suit also accuses assistant coach Tom Palladino of sexual harassment and inappropriate
conduct. In addition, it says Palladino provided alcoholic beverages to UNC players who were
under the legal drinking age. In all, 10 past or present UNC officials, staff members or coaches
were named in the suit. The players also requested a jury trial.
The suit says Keller, a team member from 1993 to 1996, suffered physical and emotional distress
from a heel injury in the fall of 1995 that involved competition between Nike and adidas.
The suit claims Keller suffered the injury in November 1995 while wearing an adidas soccer shoe
being tested by the women's soccer program. It says Dorrance forced Keller to have surgery the
next month without "sufficient X-rays or medical evaluation," then coerced her into attending the
U.S. Olympic soccer camp in February 1996 before her scheduled return from the injury.
Keller alleges Dorrance denied her the use of a custom-made adidas shoe that would help her
recovery, so she obtained one from Nike. She says Dorrance then informed her she could not
participate in the Olympic camp nor wear the Nike shoe while on the UNC team. Dorrance, Keller
alleges, interferred with her plans in order to gain leverage in his negotiations with Nike for
sponsorship of his UNC program.
Nike signed a four-year contract with UNC in 1993 to sponsor all of the Heels' sports teams except
men's and women's soccer, which had deals with adidas. UNC's newly signed five-year pact with
Nike includes soccer and will pay Dorrance $150,000 in the final year of the $7.1 million
The two players are from opposite ends of the success spectrum in terms of accolades. Keller
played her final season at UNC in 1996-97 and last February was awarded the Patterson Medal as
the school's school's outstanding senior athlete.
Keller, a high-scoring forward, was named the national player of the year by Soccer Digest in 1995
and 1996 and is one of only six UNC players who has had her number retired. Keller ranks sixth in
points, seventh in goals and second in assists at UNC.
Jennings, from St. Charles, Ill., played two years as a reserve. Baddour declined to explain why
Jennings no longer is on scholarship.
Baddour said Dorrance has apologized to Jennings' family over an incident in which he borrowed
$400 from Jennings to purchase supplies for her teammates, an event that also is at issue in the
suit. Baddour said Dorrance "fell short of the standards of good judgment."
Dorrance also apologized for "some bantering among the team and coaching staff in an informal
situation," Baddour said. "No one thought that it rose the level of the allegations here.