Tuesday, March 24, 2009

SUNY Binghamton Athletic Department Officials Charged with Sexual Harassment

Thanks to the tip from a fellow attendee of the Sport, Sexuality and Culture conference in Ithaca last week, I learned about a complaint filed against SUNY Binghamton Athletic Department officials charging them with "egregious acts of sexual misconduct." Elizabeth Williams, an athletic department fundraiser, alleges that Senior Associate Athletic Director Jason Siegel and Assistant Athletic Director for Development Chris Lewis took the opportunity of a fundraising dinner to encourage donors who offered her money for sex, to discuss her chest size and to suggest she work as a topless waitress at an event. Also, she alleges that one of her superiors told her, "You were not hired to have an opinion, but to look good and flirt with donors."

She also claims that the university reassigned her to her home and told her not to appear at university athletic events. (The article does not say, but I assume she is arguing that reassignment was retaliation either for complaining about or resisting the officials' suggestions.)

Williams filed her complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces federal employment discrimination laws, rather than in court. As such, she cannot invoke Title IX because it is not within the EEOC's enforcement jurisdiction. However, if her case does find its way to court (as EEOC matters often do), she will likely argue that the officials actions violate Title IX as well as Title VII.

While no two cases are exactly alike, it is worth noting the other two cases that I know of in which a female athletic department employee charged athletic department officials with similar acts of exploitation. First, Stacy Johnson-Klein testified in her case that the AD at Fresno State once suggested she "go one one one" with an athletic department donor; also, like Williams, Johnson-Klein was told she was hired for her looks. A second example is Deena Dearduff Schmidt, who alleged in her case against San Diego State that her athletic director did nothing while a donor repeatedly grabbed her and promised to donate money to construct a new pool if she had sex with him. Johnson-Klein's case cost Fresno State $9.9 million and Schmidt's cost SDSU $1.45 million -- so heads up, Binghamton.