Complaint alleges ex-softball coach Karen Linder pressured Lauren Kesterson to keep quiet after she reported that she had been raped; when she reported the coach's behavior, the University failed to follow its own procedures and also allowed the new coach to retaliate against her
KENT, OHIO - Today, Lauren Kesterson, a senior at Kent State University filed a civil lawsuit against KSU and former softball coach Karen Linder. The complaint alleges that Linder used her substantial influence as Kesterson's softball coach to cover up her allegation that Linder's son—then a Kent State baseball player—had raped Kesterson in the fall of their freshman year.
The complaint alleges that when Kesterson reported the attack to her coach at the end of her sophomore year, Linder responded by asking Kesterson who she had told, and then instructing her not to tell anyone else. Linder failed to report the rape as required by University policy.
Linder did, however, apparently tell her son about Kesterson's report. After she reported the rape to her coach, Tucker Linder sent Kesterson a text message acknowledging that "[he] never should have put [Kesterson] in a situation like that" and that "[his] actions caused [her] pain for all this time." And he said, "If ignoring me, hating, me, and forgetting I exist is better for you to cope with this, I understand."
The complaint alleges that Linder treated Kesterson differently after she reported the rape, acting with extreme indifference toward her, and criticizing her for what she deemed as overly emotional behavior. And Linder required Kesterson to come to the Linder family home—which was adorned with photographs including life-sized wall decals of her rapist—for softball activities and events, rejecting Kesterson's request to have the team meet elsewhere.
The complaint alleges that when, at the beginning of her senior year, Kesterson reported her coach's cover up to deputy Title IX coordinator Erin Barton, Athletic Director Joel Nielsen intervened to prevent the filing of a formal complaint and no-contact orders. Linder was allowed to resign without discipline or formal discharge.
The complaint alleges that in the aftermath of her resignation, Linder disseminated a false narrative throughout the softball community that blamed Kesterson and her parents for Linder's resignation, which created a climate of extreme hostility. This included public statements by Linder blaming her abrupt "retirement" on "philosophical differences with today's athletic world" and her frustration with "a world of entitlement" and "kids who need three reasons why they need to do [what I tell them]." Kesterson also faced retaliation and backlash from coaches, teammates, and alumni after Linder resigned. Interim head coach Eric Oakley called a team meeting where he threatened to dismiss any player who had anything bad to say about Linder.
The complaint alleges that, despite Kesterson's repeated pleas, Kent State did nothing to prevent or correct the situation. She tried to arrange a meeting with the Title IX coordinator, Loretta Shields, but was refused. Athletic Director Nielsen rejected Kesterson request to ensure that her rapist was ordered to remain off campus. She experienced extreme weight loss, nausea, anxiety, and panic attacks. Under the circumstances, she was unable to continue with softball.
Subodh Chandra, Ms. Kesterson's lead counsel, said, "College coaches wield considerable power over their athletes. But with the power to demand obedience comes the responsibility not to abuse that power. No student-athlete should ever have to choose between reporting sexual abuse and playing the sport she loves. Ms. Kesterson worked hard for many years to become a member of a major college softball program. Both Karen Linder and the University bear responsibility for depriving her of her participation in her sport."
Chandra added, "While it is disappointing that the University was unwilling to even discuss resolving this matter without litigation, Ms. Kesterson is adamant that the University address the institutional failures that resulted in the current situation."
The suit, captioned Kesterson v. Kent State University, et al., was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio . The complaint states causes of action for violations of Title IX and the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Chandra, Ashlie Case Sletvold, and Peter Pattakos of The Chandra Law Firm, LLC, www.ChandraLaw.com, represent Kesterson.
Click here to read complaint.