April Jensen, formerly an associate head coach for Notre Dame’s swimming & diving program, is suing the school for gender and pregnancy discrimination.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. In the civil suit, Jensen alleges that the school discriminated against her and wrongfully fired her for reporting discriminatory treatment by head coach Mike Litzinger.
Jensen was pregnant in 2019. In the suit, she says she told Litzinger in May of 2019 that she was pregnant. Jensen planned to take only a few weeks of maternity leave so that she could return for the team’s training trip in December of 2019. But according to the suit, Litzinger “disagreed with her plan and was openly patronizing and judgmental.”
The lawsuit alleges that during the fall of 2019, Litzinger ignored Jensen at various meets and criticized the performance of Jensen’s sprint group at the team’s mid-season rest meet, the Ohio State Invite. After that meet, the suit says, Litzinger took over planning and writing practices for the sprinters.
Jensen ultimately took about five weeks of maternity leave. (Notre Dame offers up to 12 weeks of maternity leave). She had a baby girl on December 8 and returned to coaching on January 13. But according to the lawsuit, Litzinger assigned her to coach the mid-distance stroke group when she returned, not the sprinters as she had previously coached. Jensen says she was assisting a volunteer coach who was leading the mid-distance group, and characterized the change as feeling like a demotion.
The lawsuit alleges that Litzinger created an “intolerable” work environment, ignoring her on deck and criticizing her maternity plans. When Jensen reported these behaviors to the athletic department, Litzinger claimed she “disappeared” during meets, referencing time Jensen spent pumping breast milk, and assistant athletic director Juli Schreiber suggested that Jensen was being paid full-time for working a “modified schedule.”
Jensen’s suit alleges that the school retaliated against her for reporting Litzinger’s behavior by firing her in May of 2020. The lawsuit says that Jensen was told her contract would not be renewed, with Litzinger saying the decision was based on the last three years, and not the six months surrounding her pregnancy.
The suit also claims Jensen was paid significantly less than a male coach at her same level on the same staff. Aaron Bell was also an associate head coach for Notre Dame, and was paid $77,250 for the 2017-2018 season. Jensen, also an associate head coach, was paid $56,925. The difference in pay was related to each coach’s experience level, but the suit alleges that the difference of more than $20,000 annually was not in line with the difference in the two coaches’ experience levels. At the time, Bell had been coaching 14 years, all in Division I. Jensen had coached 9 years, all in Division I.
We’ve reached out to Notre Dame for comment on the suit, but have not yet received a response. Update: the school responded with the following statement: “Because this is pending litigation, we have no comment.”
Jensen’s suit also echoes many of the allegations made in the civil lawsuit between Petra Martin and Rutgers University. Martin alleged she was wrongfully terminated and held to an unfair double-standard as a female coach. Rutgers ultimately settled the lawsuit by paying Martin $725,000 and publicly exonerating her of allegations that she had bullied athletes.