Notre Dame swim coach resigns a week after settlement in gender discrimination lawsuit
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame’s head swimming coach, who was accused in a recently settled lawsuit of degrading and demoting a female assistant because of her pregnancy, has resigned less than a week before the team’s first meet of the season.
The university announced Monday that former head coach Michael Litzinger resigned from the program and will retire from the sport of swimming altogether. Associate head coach Aaron Bell is also “no longer with the team,” according to the release.
Litzinger’s resignation comes less than a week before the Irish swim team’s first scheduled meet of the season and a week after a lawsuit against the school, brought by one of Litzinger’s former assistant coaches, was dismissed by a federal judge at the request of both parties.
A meet scheduled for this weekend was cancelled and the school is making “an interim plan designed to allow our student-athletes to compete this year,” the release says.
The lawsuit, filed in May by April Jensen, accused Notre Dame and Litzinger of gender discrimination, Title IX violations and retaliation. In her complaint, Jensen claimed Litzinger told her “nobody cares what you went through” regarding her pregnancy and that her contract was not renewed when she brought her concerns to administrators in the athletic department.
When asked Tuesday if his decision to resign was related to the lawsuit, Litzinger said “Absolutely not.”
“I’ve got a lot of goals and opportunities in front of me that are not related to the sport and I’m going to take advantage of those,” Litzinger said. He did not say what those opportunities were.
In the university’s release, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said “recent events” led to the resignations.
“Making changes in the leadership of one of our programs is never easy, especially at the start of the competitive season, but recent events convinced Mike and me that a change in the direction of our program was necessary,” Swarbrick said.
A university spokeswoman declined an interview request Tuesday from The Tribune.
Thomas Newkirk, an attorney who represented Jensen in the case, declined to comment.
A settlement agreement is not listed in the public court docket, however, recent filings point to the parties reaching an agreement last month.
In a filing from Aug. 27, both parties wrote that they “have engaged in discussions to determine whether and how this action should proceed” and that “the parties have made substantial progress in their discussions” since June.
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit Sept. 27, in a mutual agreement between both parties, court documents say.
Jensen’s complaint claimed Litzinger criticized, ignored and was generally unsupportive of her when she was pregnant in 2019.
When Jensen returned to work in January 2020, she was “stripped of her job duties” in front of the whole team and assigned to assist a volunteer coach with a different group of swimmers, the lawsuit said.
In late February and March of that year, Jensen informed human resources administrators in the athletic department of the alleged discriminatory treatment. In May 2020, the complaint said, Jensen was informed the university would not renew her contract.
Aaron Bell is mentioned in the lawsuit only when Jensen alleged pay discrimination on the part of Notre Dame. Jensen claimed Bell made approximately $20,000 more than she did in the 2017-18 academic year despite the two coaches performing similar duties.
Bell did not immediately respond to an interview request Tuesday.
Litzinger was hired by Notre Dame in 2015 and was previously head coach at the University of Utah and an associate head coach at the University of North Carolina.
Bell came to Notre Dame in 2016 after spending five seasons as an assistant at Virginia Tech.
Email Marek Mazurek at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek