BOISE, Idaho – Two former Boise State University students are suing the school because they say athletic officials ignored their reports of sexual assault and harassment by a star athlete.
The women are represented by nationally known attorney Gloria Allred, who has handled similar lawsuits in several other states. They contend that multiple Boise State University athletic officials knew the athlete who abused them had a record of serially harassing and assaulting fellow students, and that the school’s failure to take action spurred the athlete to continue the behavior.
The Associated Press typically does not identify victims of sexual assault. The lawsuit doesn’t identify the athlete the women say committed the assaults other than to call him a “men’s star track and field athlete.”
The university released a prepared statement Monday afternoon, saying the well-being of students is BSU’s first priority, and contending that officials didn’t learn of the women’s complaints until last year. The school says it then took immediate action.
“While we regret that the incidents ever occurred, the university believes its action in this case, given the information it had at the time, was swift, thorough and appropriate,” the statement read.
In the amended lawsuit filed last week, the women say Boise State University officials showed “deliberate indifference” by refusing to take action when the male athlete sexually harassed female track and field athletes in front of coaches.
“The BSU track and field program did nothing about the BSU perpetrator’s behavior toward female athletes, even after being told that he had raped a female athlete,” Allred wrote in the lawsuit.
Both women were freshmen in 2011, recruited by BSU’s track and field coach J.W. Hardy and awarded scholarships.
“At the time that the plaintiffs began attending BSU, J.W. Hardy, the head coach of the track and field team, as well as other members of the athletic department, had been provided with information demonstrating that the BSU perpetrator created a sexually hostile environment for females, and/or posed a risk of rape or sexual battery to females,” the women contend in the lawsuit.
Hardy, who is not a defendant in the lawsuit, could not be immediately reached for comment.
The women contend that the male athlete openly spanked the female athletes during practices, and made sexual comments and sexual facial expressions at them, including suggestively biting his lip.
When one woman was raped by the athlete, she reported it to Hardy a short time later, according to the lawsuit.
“Coach Hardy said that he could not help her because she had consumed a minor amount of alcohol before the rape,” Allred wrote in the lawsuit. “He failed to inform her of her right to file a criminal complaint against the BSU perpetrator, and even failed to provide her with information regarding available mental health services.”
The woman who reported the rape “not only had to see the BSU perpetrator at practices following the rape, she also had to endure open sexual taunting by him at those practices,” according to the lawsuit.
The women say the school’s failure to act violated Title IX, the federal law designed to protect people from sex discrimination in educational activities, including school athletics.
Boise State University relieved Hardy from his coaching duties in April 2013. At the time, the school didn’t give a reason, but said it wouldn’t renew Hardy’s four-year contract, which ran through June 2013.
In Monday’s statement, BSU officials said they received an anonymous complaint on March 6, 2013, that university officials failed to act on allegations of sexual assault by a student athlete. That complaint prompted the school to investigate, according to the statement, including interviews with student athletes and coaches.
“As a result of that allegation, the university suspended its head track and field coach from his duties on March 26, 2013,” the statement read. The coach was later fired and the alleged perpetrator was kicked off the track team and indefinitely suspended from the university, according to the school.
“Sexual assaults and harassment are among the basest of violations any person can suffer. We are shocked and saddened anytime our students are the victims of such senseless violence and abuse. Our hearts and thoughts continue to go out to the victims and families involved in this horrible incident,” the statement said. “... While we regret that the incidents ever occurred, the university believes its action in this case, given the information it had at the time, was swift, thorough and appropriate.”