UM athlete files sex discrimination case in federal court

A University of Michigan track and field athlete says she was sexually assaulted and stalked by a teammate and accused university officials of failing to protect her while fostering a hostile environment on the track team.

The athlete filed a 62-page sex discrimination lawsuit in federal court Thursday that serves as the latest legal problem enveloping the UM athletic department. The complaint comes after hundreds of former athletes and others have leveled allegations of sexual abuse against a now-deceased top physician for football teams led by former coaches Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr.

The lawsuit chronicles the years-long disintegration of a promising sprinter’s academic and athletic career following an alleged sexual assault more than three years ago. The court records also accuse university officials, specifically track and field coach James Henry, of responding callously to the allegations.

The accuser wants the university to pay unspecified damages, reinstate her student-athlete benefits and enforce a no-contact order designed to shield her from her former teammate, who works on campus.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday against the UM Board of Regents, Athletic Director Warde Manuel, Henry and several Title IX and academic officials.

University and team spokesmen declined comment Thursday.

The lawsuit stems from alleged sexual assaults involving a female and male track and field athlete that happened as early as fall 2016.

The athletes often studied together in the woman’s dorm room and, occasionally, the woman would fall asleep, exhausted by her studies and workouts.

In spring 2017, her teammate made a confession: He said “he had sexually assaulted (her) when she had fallen asleep during their previous study sessions together,” according to the lawsuit.

The admission triggered a prolonged period of health and academic problems for the woman and fruitless pleas for help from university officials, according to the lawsuit.

She reported the incident to the university’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and was diagnosed with PTSD.

Top university and athletic officials responded to the woman’s complaints with indifference, a reaction that created a hostile educational environment, according to the lawsuit.

After the woman alerted university officials to the repeated sexual assaults, the suspect was ordered to have no contact with her, according to the lawsuit.

University officials, however, refused to enforce the no-contact order or implement additional protective measures, according to the lawsuit.

She asked Henry to keep him away from her during practices. Henry declined, the lawsuit said.

“Instead, defendant Henry callously responded that several female track athletes had disclosed being sexually assaulted to him over the years and most were unable to ‘handle’ being on the track team afterwards,” according to the lawsuit. 

Henry advised her to speak up before “hurling herself off a bridge,” the lawsuit said. He also said she should be “flattered” that the suspect had expressed a sexual interest in her, the woman’s lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the accuser repeatedly ran into the suspect on campus, which triggered panic attacks, the lawsuit said. Despite the no-contact order, the teammate showed up at her science class in fall 2017.

“She then suffered a panic attack in the bathroom — which included crying, hyperventilating, and vomiting,” according to the lawsuit.

Her grades continued to suffer and she was unable to participate in team events. In November 2017, Henry cut her from the team, according to the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, an internal investigation focused on the alleged assault and concluded in January 2018 that the teammate was responsible for sexually assaulting the woman. He was placed on academic probation, according to the lawsuit.

In April 2018, an assistant Washtenaw County prosecutor declined to prosecute the teammate. Although the suspect admitted assaulting the woman, she was asleep and could not recall the assault, the prosecutor concluded.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews 

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