San Jose State University agreed to pay $ 1.6 million to 13 student-athletes who claimed to have been sexually harassed by a former athletic trainer, federal prosecutors and the university said Tuesday.
In a letter to the California State University System, the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice concluded that the university had failed to respond adequately for more than a decade to reports of sexual harassment against the trainer and had violated Title IX, a law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded schools.
The university, according to the letter, did so “despite widespread knowledge and repeated reports of the allegations.” As a result, the student-athletes suffered “further sexual harassment,” the department said.
Beginning in 2009, the Justice Department said in a statement that student-athletes reported that the coach repeatedly subjected them to “unwelcome sexual touching” on their breasts, groin, buttocks and buttocks. pubis during treatment at campus training centers.
Investigations by the university and the Justice Department identified 23 student-athletes who they said had been inappropriately touched by coach Scott Shaw, according to the university. The department offered each of them $ 125,000, the university said, and 13 accepted the offer.
Mr Shaw, who was the university’s director of sports medicine until his retirement last year, and his lawyer could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday evening.
The Justice Department also found that the university retaliated against two employees of its athletics department, one of whom repeatedly alerted school officials to the threat posed by Mr Shaw, and the second objected to retaliation against the employee who reported the threat. The second employee, according to the ministry, was fired.
“No student should be sexually harassed at any college or university in our country, especially by an employee who wields power,” Deputy Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division said. in the ministry statement.
“With this agreement, San Jose State University will bring relief to survivors and transform its Title IX process to ensure accountability for its athletics program and create a safer campus for all of its students.”
The university said in a statement that it had cooperated with the Justice Department’s review and the findings were similar to a recent investigation by an external investigator and overseen by the system’s Title IX compliance officer. from California State University.
The investigation, which ended in April, concluded that the 2009 allegations of improper touching during physiotherapy sessions were founded, as were the most recent allegations raised during the investigation, according to the press release. ‘university.
“This investigation also found that the conduct in question violated university policies in effect at the time of the conduct,” the statement said. “We thank all the people who courageously came forward during the investigations. To the affected student-athletes and their families, we sincerely apologize. “
In recent years, the MeToo movement has shined the spotlight on sexual harassment and abuse throughout American society. Universities have had to face their own judgment as widespread student abuse has come to light in other high-profile cases. Payments have often been expensive.
The University of Southern California announced in March that it would pay more than $ 1.1 billion to the former patients of a campus gynecologist accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of patients, marking what officials say of the university have called “the end of a painful and ugly chapter in history.” of our university.
The staggering sum – a combination of three sets of settlements with hundreds of alleged victims of gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall – set a record for college sexual abuse payments, compensating a generation of young USC women.
In May 2018, Michigan State University agreed to a $ 500 million settlement with 332 women and girls who said they were abused by Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar. The university president described the settlement as an “important step in the healing process, not only for survivors, but also for the university community”.
In the state of San Jose, investigations into Mr. Shaw’s conduct were conducted by the university’s human resources department and campus police in 2009 and 2010. They determined “that there is no had not done any wrongdoing, ”the university said Tuesday.
“The Justice Department’s findings reinforce our need for answers to questions about the original 2009-2010 survey,” the statement said, “and how the university responded to those findings, which is why SJSU and President (Mary) Papazian have initiated an external Title IX Response Inquiry. The inquiry is currently underway. “
Some faculty members were happy with the settlement announced on Tuesday, but also frustrated that it took so long for the university to sort out the issue with the victims. Nikos J. Mourtos, chairman of the university section of the California Faculty Association, said he did not understand why university administrations continued not to act quickly to arrest the attackers.
“It’s one thing if a student-athlete makes an allegation you can dismiss it,” said Dr. Mourtos, professor of aerospace engineering. “A second, you can reject it. But we have a series of allegations and you don’t take them seriously? It appears that the university was looking at protecting this abuser rather than the well-being of the athletes. “
The Justice Department’s agreement also requires the university to improve its process for responding to complaints of sexual harassment, provide more resources to the Title IX coordinator, survey of sports employees to better assess their understanding of the policies of the institution. university and take “real action” to prevent retaliation against those who file complaints.
Ms Clarke thanked the “current and former” students who have stepped forward to share their experiences “and the employees who have increasingly stood up for their students”.
“Because of them,” she said, “San Jose State University will adopt major reforms to prevent such abuse of authority from happening again. “