Complaints of sex discrimination made against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette by nine female athletes include allegations by some of the women of inappropriate behavior by the university’s president and athletic director.
Copies of the complaints to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights were released by Allison Jones, an attorney for the nine women who are former softball players for the university. Jones, from Shreveport, is also handling separate Equal Opportunity Employment Commission complaints filed by four female professors at the university.
The university issued statements this week in which President Joseph Savoie and Athletic Director Bryan Maggard vehemently denied allegations of improper behavior. ULL also called the discrimination allegations “patently false and baseless.”
“Gender equity is a pillar of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s core values,” the university said.
The women allege that the university denied them the kind of physical training, medical attention and facilities male athletes get. Some say racial discrimination — including slurs used against black team members by others on the team — was not dealt with. One player says she was discriminated against because she is heterosexual.
The women complain that their former coach, Michael Lotief, was fired last year for complaining about unfair conditions, and that players who pressed the complaints were retaliated against by the university in various ways, including being locked out of athletic facilities and threatened with loss of scholarships.
“They all feel they were retaliated against,” Jones said in an interview.
Their complaints come amid a growing national consciousness of sexual discrimination and harassment issues, evidenced by the (hash)MeToo movement and the related fall of powerful people including movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and deposed CBS chief Les Moonves.
Filing the complaints were softball players Doni Sanders, Aleah Craighton, Alyssa Denham, Chelsea Lotief, Kimber Cortemelia, Miranda Grotenhuis, Sara Koeppen, Shae Schreckengost and Teryn Pritchett.
At the heart of the complaints are the allegations of unequal treatment of the women athletes. Embedded in some of the complaints are allegations that university officials failed to address reports of improper and sometimes physically abusive relationships among team members. And at least three allege improper behavior by university officials.
“Dr. Savoie made various student-athletes uncomfortable by being drunk after games and giving inappropriate hugs,” one of the complainants wrote. “I personally felt very uncomfortable to the point that I started avoiding these hugs.”
Another of the women said in her complaint that Savoie and Maggard should be reprimanded, along with another administrator for “inappropriate conduct, unauthorized touching of some ULL Softball players” and failing to investigate a host of problems involving the team.
Still another alleged in her complaint that Maggard “inappropriately touched/groped me on multiple occasions.”
“These claims are absurd,” Savoie said in a statement released by the university. “My wife and I have been dedicated supporters and fans of this program for years. After games, we would often congratulate the team with hugs and high fives, always together. These interactions were always done in public, with many witnesses. To imply anything inappropriate happened is ludicrous.”
“This is a ridiculous accusation,” said Maggard. “I treat every student-athlete I encounter with the utmost respect. I take this accusation very seriously and will vigorously defend myself and the university against these egregious lies.”
The complaints revive the controversy surrounding last fall’s firing of then-softball coach Michel Lotief, the father of Chelsea Lotief.
Calling the women’s discrimination allegations “patently false and baseless,” the university said Lotief’s firing was not in retaliation for his having raised gender equity issues.
“Following allegations by female students and employees, Lotief was terminated in 2017 for violating the University’s Prohibited Sexual Conduct and Violence Free Workplace policies, subjecting student-athletes and coworkers to sexually hostile situations, vulgar language and behavior, and creating a hostile learning and working environment,” the university said.
Lotief and his attorneys denied wrongdoing at a Nov. 1 news conference in which one attorney accused the university of “slanderous” accusations. Thursday evening, Lotief attorney Jack McElligott issued a statement saying the latest allegations point to the need for “an independent investigation of the current administration.”
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