If you follow college football, you may have heard about the scandal at Ohio State. OSU had its second consecutive championship-caliber season, and its marching band has received national acclaim for its halftime routines. Unfortunately, the latest cheerleading scandal has put the Buckeyes back in the spotlight for a less-than-flattering reason.
Cheerleaders Sexually Harassed by Coaches
According to a Fox News article, Ohio State has let two cheerleading coaches go after allegations that these coaches were sexually harassing the school's cheerleaders. What is interesting about this story is the fact that the allegations of harassment are coming from both female and male cheerleaders. According to the accusations, Coaches Eddie Hollins and Dana Bumbrey slapped male cheerleaders' butts and touched them inappropriately and also made inappropriate sexual comments to the female cheerleaders. Their defense? We were just joking and that's the kind of environment we have around here. Luckily, school officials didn't buy it. A spokesman for OSU, Gary Lewis, Jr., had this response:
Ohio State University has no tolerance for this type of behavior. The university conducted a complete and thorough investigation and found that the behaviors of Hollins and Bumbrey were inconsistent with university values and violated university policies.
As a result, Hollins and Bumbrey were terminated in May of this year. The head cheerleading coach, Lenee Buchman, was later fired as well. Although not directly involved in the harassing conduct, Buchman was aware of the allegations of sexual misconduct but did not take any action against the two assistant coaches. Not only that, Buchman removed Cody Ellis, one of the complaining cheerleaders, from the squad after his accusations of harassment.
Ellis hired an attorney after he was dismissed from the squad, and alleged that the head coach was retaliating against him for his complaints. Ellis had complained that one of the two terminated assistant coaches sent him sexually explicit text messages after Ellis had disclosed that he was gay. When Ellis was let go from the squad, Buchman claimed it was because of his "bad attitude." As a result of his dismissal from the squad, Ellis lost benefits, including his scholarship.
Avoiding Liability for Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment in the school setting, much like in the workplace, is illegal. What it takes to establish a claim also requires a showing that the harasser's employer knew of the misconduct, but did not take appropriate action. If the employer can establish that it exercised reasonable care to promptly correct the sexual harassment, then the employer may be able to assert a defense and stave off liability.
In this case, according to news reports, Ohio State University took appropriate action by investigating the accusations and promptly terminating the individuals involved. Not all employers are as diligent or even concerned about doing away with sexual harassment. Because of that reality, it is important for any employee who believes they may be the victim of sexual harassment to report the behavior immediately. If you have any questions about sexual harassment claims, or if you have reported harassment and believe you are being retaliated against because of your complaint, give us a call and we can discuss your rights with you.