UPDATE: Mar. 10, 2 p.m.: Westminster College has released the following statement:
“Westminster College takes sexual harassment complaints seriously. The college maintains the privacy of any student’s complaints and/or investigations and will respect the legal process.”
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) — A student-athlete at Westminster College filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against a coach. The lawsuit alleges that the coach retaliated against the student when she spoke out against his alleged participation in sexual harassment.
According to the civil lawsuit, the alleged sexual harassment is in reference to an “initiation ritual” that student-athletes were pressured to participate in.
She alleged that the coach had a “grossly permissive attitude towards, and often, direct participation in, wildly inappropriate sexual harassment directed towards his young female players.”
The student said that the coach violated Title IX and after she spoke out against the coach for the alleged violation, he retaliated against her. Title IX is a law that bans sex discrimination in federally funded activities and programs.
According to the lawsuit, one of the inappropriate activities student-athletes were asked to participate in, was the “hot seat.” Allegedly, new student-athletes or new transfers, had to sit at the front of the bus across the aisle from the coach and answer questions about themselves.
The lawsuit states that those in the “hot seat” are asked and expected to answer these highly offensive and intrusive questions about their personal sex lives, including explicit details about specific sexual conduct and activities. It states that the coach would sometimes participate in these sexually explicit “hot seat” interrogations.
According to the lawsuit, athletes were instructed by the coach and senior players that they could not record the initiation, and that “what happens on the bus stays on the bus.”
The student-athlete stated that while traveling with the team in 2021, she knew she would be subject to the hot seat, she said she felt “trapped[…] extremely uncomfortable, and distraught.”
The student said she became sick to her stomach as she anticipated being pressured to respond to questions “no one should be compelled to answer publicly.”
The student also stated in the lawsuit that another freshman student-athlete on the bus ride was also panicking about having to answer questions, and even texted her mother for advice. Allegedly, her mother’s response was, “Where is the coach?” The lawsuit states that this text implied the actions were something the coach should have been putting a stop to.
“He, instead, encouraged and participated in the conduct, allowing the bus for the team he coached to be a forum for sexual harassment and abuse to the young female athletes under his charge,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, when the student-athlete brought up these practices with both the coach and representatives of the school, they were dismissive.
It assuaged that they had the authority to end this, but that if they were to take action, all that the coach would get was a “slap on the wrist.” So instead, the representative for the student tried to file a Title IX complaint, and the College allegedly declined to handle it as one, and instead treated it as a personnel matter. They allegedly stated their reasoning for that, because the student did not file the complaint themselves.
The student filing the lawsuit believed that the College did not do enough to handle the situation. It outlines that the coach in question was only placed on administrative leave for a short period and only missed one game because of it.
The college reportedly put team members and the coach through Title IX training. However, after the complaint, the coach allegedly retaliated against the team member. This is stated as one of the reasons the student filed a civil lawsuit.
Previous to the complaint, the student-athlete stated that she played frequently during games. However, once the coach returned after his leave of absence, he allegedly retaliated by refusing to put her on the field. After his administrative leave, the student did not play a single minute for the next four matches.
A representative of the student then filed a retaliation complaint to the Title IX office and was allegedly met with more difficulties. The student was advised that the college had retained its own council and that it would be present at future meetings with the student.
After this point, the student stated that they declined to further pursue a retaliation complaint through the Title IX process after they said they realized the college was taking an aggressive defensive legal posture in response to complaints of violations.
The student-athlete then filed a civil lawsuit against the coach and Westminster College. ABC4 would like to remind readers that this is a civil lawsuit and that allegations in the lawsuit may not indicate the full scope of the issue. ABC4 has reached out to the President of Westminster but has not received a response yet.