Thursday, October 22, 2020

Former MSU sprinter sues school for failure to enforce sexual assault regulations

April 30, 2020
The John A. Hannah Administration Building on Jan. 10, 2019.
The John A. Hannah Administration Building on Jan. 10, 2019. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

A former Michigan State track athlete has filed suit against the university, as part of a larger set of lawsuits against the NCAA involving at least two other institutions, in failing to uphold Title IX regulations after she was allegedly sexually assaulted in March 2017.

The lawsuits, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, aim to hold MSU and the NCAA accountable for negligence, fraud and breach of contract in each of these seven individual cases. The other institutions include Nebraska and an unnamed American East Conference Division I college, according to ESPN.

Emma Roedel, a former sprinter at Michigan State, is filing suit against the institution, former university President Lou Anna K. Simon, former Athletic Director Mark Hollis, former Title IX Coordinator Jessica Norris, current assistant track coach Yolanda Johnson and the MSU Board of Trustees.

According to the lawsuit, on Mar. 15, 2017, at approximately 2 a.m., Roedel woke up in her dorm being sexually assaulted by an anonymous male sprinter.

Two days after the alleged assault, Roedel reached out to Johnson. After explaining the situation, Johnson allegedly told Roedel that “if she pursued any claims against John Doe, no one would like her, and that's because (Roedel) is pretty, she would become a distraction,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that, following Johnson filing a report to the police, as she is mandated to under Title IX regulations, Roedel was threatened by members of the men’s track team in her dorm. In fear of these threats, Roedel declined to pursue any criminal action and declined an investigation from MSU's Office of Institutional Equity.

During finals week of spring 2017, Johnson met with Roedel to discuss plans for the future, according to the lawsuit. Johnson allegedly told Roedel that because men’s and women’s events practice together, in order to avoid her alleged abuser, she would have to run distance, quit the team or transfer to another school.

Johnson also told Roedel that the unnamed male athlete would be allowed to continue as a sprinter, according to the lawsuit.

Roedel transferred to Grand Valley State University, where she later quit the track team, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that Michigan State never provided Roedel with an explanation of her rights under Title IX or that she had a right to interim measures of action even if she didn’t wish to pursue a Title IX investigation.

In the lawsuit, five other former students, including Amanda Thomashow, a survivor of former MSU doctor Larry Nassar's abuse, were used as examples of a culture at MSU "in which female victims are discouraged from reporting sexual assaults when those assaults are perpetrated by male athletes, thus protecting the university, the male athletics programs, and the male athletes at the expense of the female athletes."

Roedel's attorney, Karen Truszkowski, said the lawsuit aims to uphold justice at MSU, breaking the culture that has been fostered there over many years.

"The goal is to continue to bring the problems at MSU to light and continue to advocate for change," Truszkowski said.

"I think the complaint speaks for itself, they've continuously created an environment that allows people to get away with things that they shouldn't get away with."

A spokesperson for the university responded to the pending litigations in an email.

"We take allegations of sexual misconduct and retaliation very seriously, and our Office of Institutional Equity reviews all allegations it receives," Emily Guerrant, Michigan State's vice president for Media and Public information said.

"The University is committed to providing a supportive and safe environment free from sexual misconduct in all its forms. In in the last several years, MSU has taken significant steps to increase resources for survivors, to revise and to educate the campus community on our policies, as well as to further its prevention efforts."

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Hollis retired in January 2018 at the height of scrutiny into MSU's athletic department's response to the crimes committed by Nassar.

Simon resigned that same week and was later charged with lying to peace officers regarding her knowledge of Nassar's crimes. Simon currently awaits trial.

Norris left her position as associate vice president of the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance in June 2018.

Johnson is still employed by the university.

According to ESPN, the other suit filed by Roedel, former MSU student Bailey Kowalski and five other women against the NCAA argues it failed to uphold its duty to "supervise, regulate, monitor and provide reasonable and appropriate rules to minimize the risk of injury or danger to student-athletes and by student-athletes."

This is a developing story. Stay with The State News for updates.

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