Former Coach April Jensen Sues Notre Dame For Gender & Pregnancy Discrimination

April Jensenformerly 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.

Former Notre Dame Associate Head Coach April Jensen. (Photo courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics)

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.

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Dan
4 months ago

I think she has a pretty good case and I base that on my having watched Law & Order religiously for the last 20+ years. Seriously though, this isn’t a good look for ND. Taking 5 weeks of maternity leave is crazy and shows that she was dedicated to getting back on deck, just a shame that she felt the pressure to return so quick.
I dealt with April once while she was recruiting one of my athletes and she seemed fantastic. I know it’s only one interaction, but she made a great first impression and that’s more than I can say for a lot of coaches (probably myself included) I’ve run across.

Monkeyseemonkeydoodoo
4 months ago

Sources say the comments section from last year’s SwimSwam article announcing Coach Jensen wouldn’t be returning to ND is still smoking 👀🔥

https://swimswam.com/notre-dame-associate-head-coach-april-jensen-wont-return-next-season/

Tabahn Afrik
Reply to  Monkeyseemonkeydoodoo
4 months ago

👀

IU Swammer
Reply to  Monkeyseemonkeydoodoo
4 months ago

Comments on that article were about as testy as the comments on the Ryan Locte documentary article.

potstirrer
Reply to  IU Swammer
4 months ago

Reading through the comments. Interesting that someone tried to be the internet police and call ss sexist for pointing out that she recently had a child and then it turns out that was crucial to the whole story afterall.

https://swimswam.com/notre-dame-associate-head-coach-april-jensen-wont-return-next-season/#comment-809936

👀👀👀👀👀👀👀

Swimdude
4 months ago

I know zero about this situation, but compared to the improvements and recruiting in the mid distance/distance crews, ND sprinting had been underperforming, which is fair game for letting a coach go. That being said, not a great look for ND to be less than accommodating for a new mother who took a shorter maternity leave for the team

uhOH
Reply to  Swimdude
4 months ago

There’s the right way to handle the dismissal of a coach under-performing…….and this is the absolute wrong way. Notre Dame should be embarrassed as this is not about her performance as a coach, but treatment of a human.

Swimdude
Reply to  uhOH
4 months ago

Hence the second part of what I wrote 🙂

Sid Frisco
4 months ago

Clear case of mismanagement. If the sprint group had been under performing and the possibility of a coach being removed is in play, this scenario requires an air tight case that’s documented and transparent. Guessing that’s not the case.

Coach Macgyver
4 months ago

Did the head coach have a meeting with her outside of practice? Like a PIP where they discussed her underperforming?

I understand and applaud her for wanting to return after having a kid. But it sounds like this goes further back and she was kindly demoted for underperforming, when she probably should have been sat down and told she was demoted.

Guerra
4 months ago

The facilities have improved and ND is recruiting faster swimmers. Unfortunately, they are not getting much faster from high school and the leadership of ND attempted to make a scapegoat of April. It is ridiculous that we still see instances of this in 2021. Shame on Notre Dame!

Irish Folliez
4 months ago

This isn’t a surprise coming from a head coach that tells his women’s team “this isn’t planet fitness” in reference to their bodies.

Swammer
Reply to  Irish Folliez
4 months ago

Wow. What’s the ND swim team environment like ? Through the years there have been some late transfers out. Fast kids who totally stopped or transferred after one year etc. I always assumed it was academics.maybe it’s normal swim shifts and just focusing on it because of this news. Either way definitely not a good look for ND.

SwimNC
4 months ago

Women absolutely need more opportunities in our sport and some of these allegations may very well end up being true, but keep in mind that’s just what they are until a trial occurs. We’re only seeing one side of the story. Only making the point because I know how ruthless the comments can get sometimes. If true, however, not a good look.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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