Nothing to Cheer About

Did a Marshall U. report find that alleged lewd remarks and sexual contact were just "playful" and not bias?
June 27, 2006

A former Marshall University cheerleader alleges in a lawsuit filed recently in West Virginia that she was subjected to "a pervasive environment of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination" during team workouts and functions.

A Marshall internal investigation into the conduct described in the suit found that the interactions were "playful," "aggressive" and "degrading," but not discriminatory, according to Mary Downey, a lawyer for the former cheerleader, who still attends Marshall.

Downey received a copy of the report and said she is beginning the process of legal discovery to learn more about the alleged incidents. The suit names Donna Dunn, identified as a faculty member who oversees the cheerleading squad, as one of the defendants.

"When you say that what was done to my client was 'playful,' that's simply offensive," Downey said. "It was degrading and humiliating."

Marshall's press office directed comments to the university's lawyer, who did not return numerous calls. Dunn could not be reached for comment, either. The cheerleading team roster and photos of its members are no longer available on the university's web site. 

The Smoking Gun, a Web site that often posts legal documents, linked to the lawsuit late last week.

The plaintiff in the case, a woman referred to in the suit as “K.C,” entered Marshall last fall, Downey said. K.C. was awarded a scholarship and invited to join the cheerleading team in April 2005 -- before she enrolled at the university, according to the lawsuit.

When K.C. practiced with the team, she alleges that male members called her vulgar names, and that the head male cheerleader exposed himself and groped her, according to the lawsuit. K.C. also said a member of the team threatened to drop her during routines if she didn't comply with his sexual orders. 

The lawsuit alleges that Dunn and other staff members witnessed the acts taking place and did nothing to prevent them. K.C. said the coach named cheers for various sexual acts, among them "More Head" and "Bearded Clam."

"They knew these things were going on," Downey said. "They were a part of it."

K.C. claims that she was placed on probation for not participating in an event in which female members of the squad were required to put golf balls down their shirts. In June 2005, when K.C. said she complained about harassment to the male captain, she said her uniform was taken from her and she lost her scholarship.

The head male cheerleader was put on probation after a Marshall judicial hearing last August, according to the lawsuit. Downey said she doesn't know how long the probation lasted and if the student is still at Marshall.


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