New Lawsuit against San Jose State Raises Spectre of Millions More in Damages for Abuse

The nearly $5.7 million paid since last November to settle lawsuits resulting from sexual abuse complaints against San Jose State University over actions by former athletics trainer Scott Shaw are now likely the tip of the iceberg, in both numbers of victims and the size of payouts to these victims by the California State University system.

Lawyers filed a federal class action civil rights lawsuit this month on behalf of “Jane Doe et. al.” against Shaw, San Jose State and CSU trustees citing “approximately 1,000 students” who may have been victims of Shaw – the number of potential victims also cited in a U.S.Department of Justice civil rights lawsuit filed in November.

The Arns Law Firm in San Francisco in November obtained a $3.3 million settlement for 15 San Jose State athletes who claimed they were victims of Shaw’’s sexual abuse. Shaw was in federal court last week charged with criminal civil rights violations for his actions as an athletic trainer and director of sports medicine at San Jose State.

In a damning 29-page complaint, the San Francisco lawyers say the university and its trustees should be held accountable for ignoring and covering up Shaw’s abuse of student athletes for years, for sustaining “a septic environment that permitted the abuse and harassment by Shaw to continue for decades.”

Damage is irreversible

“This neglect of duty by these officials …to these young women, students and athletes caused, and continues to cause, irreparable physical, psychological and emotional damage that cannot be reversed.”

Monetary damages were not specified.

The Arns firm is joined in the new class action suit by the Orange County law firm of Manley, Steward & Finaldi, which in January obtained a $490 million settlement of a class action suit against the University of Michigan for ignoring sexual abuse by its athletic team physician. The Manley firm said it has obtained more than $2 billion for victims of sexual abuse and harassment over the past 20 years. One of the firm’s attorneys in the suit is Shounak Dharap, who also is school board president of the Palo Alto Unified School District.

San Jose State also has recently settled retaliation suits brought by former deputy athletic director Steve O’Brien for $560,000, and by former swim coach Sage Hopkins for $225,000. In January, the university also agreed to a $1.6 million settlement with the Justice Department for civil rights abuses.

The scandal led to the resignations of athletic director Marie Tuite and San Jose State President Mary Papazian. San Jose State isn’t the only sexual abuse scandal rocking the CSU system: Chancellor Joseph Castro announced January that he would resign over concerns that he mishandled sexual misconduct allegations while he was president of Fresno State.

Shaw, San Jose State and CSU have until April 18 to respond to the lawsuit.

The class action suit seeks damages for: violatingTitle IX, which since 1972 has banned discrimination in athletic or education programs based on sex; deprivation of civil rights, under Section 1983, which provides an individual the right to sue state government employees and others acting "under color of state law" for civil rights violations; and for failure ro provide training and supervision of employees under Section 1983.

Athletes trusted Shaw

“[The]Plaintiffs are young women attending a public state university … [who] believed that they would be safe and cared for, while attaining their education and competing in collegiate sports.,” the lawsuit states. ”Instead, those who were supposed to protect the plaintiffs and the class from sexual predators, like defendant Scott Shaw, ignored clear signs that these young women were at-risk of being molested by Shaw, all done to preserve their institution’s prestige and prevent scandal from ripping through their sports program.” The lawsuit said the student athletes trusted Shaw “to provide athletic training and medical care.”

“Despite having various warning signs that Shaw was a danger to students, [San Jose State University and its trustees] turned their back on the well-being of the young students in their care, and moreover, took proactive steps to retaliate against employees who made bona fide reports under Title IX sexual harassment procedures.”

For over 14 years, the lawsuit continues, “Shaw sexually abused countless female student-athletes during allegedly sports-related massages by inappropriately, and without consent, touching them in their private areas—including their genitals, breasts and buttocks.”

‘Trigger point’ therapy

One Jane Doe in the complaint alleged that “during therapy for her back, Shaw would spend most of the time—about 10 minutes— massaging plaintiff’s groin area, genitalia, and buttocks.”

Shaw’s actions, according to the lawsuit, were “inappropriate, unconsented, and performed under the guise of ‘trigger point’ therapy to treat her back injury.”

The student athletes, described by the lawyer as “survivors,” “suffered lasting humiliation and trauma as a result of not only Shaw’s actions but also SJSU’s attempts to silence complaints (and) persuade complainants into believing they were wrong to report the abuse in the first place.”

The lawsuit contends that before 2009, San Jose State had ”turned a blind eye to rampant complaints among its athletic teams that Shaw inappropriately touched female athletes.”

“The SJSU athletics staff laughed off and dismissed reports of abuse raised by athletes, dissuading them from filing formal complaints or otherwise pursuing their claims for fear of further humiliation,” according to the complaint.

When Hopkins “began a crusade to bring Shaw’s abuse to light …  SJSU took increasingly drastic measures to keep Shaw’s abuse—and SJSU’s own complicity—hidden,” the lawyers wrote.

The lawsuit said “the Athletics Department mischaracterized and misrepresented witness testimony, minimized plaintiffs’ complaints of the abuse they experienced, chose not to treat reporting student-athletes as complainants, and ultimately issued a two-page report exonerating Shaw that was never shared with coaches, athletes, or the public.”

University ignored complaints

The lawsuit said that San Jose State continued to dismiss and ignore complaints of Shaw’s abuse of students, and “routinely implemented secret no-contact directives prohibiting Shaw from providing massages to female athletes, which were never enforced and, at times, whose existence was denied by SJSU.”

Shaw, lawyers contend, “was given free access to continue his decades of sexual abuse of female student-athletes. … . unhindered in his conduct, knowing SJSU would allow him to touch female students without any repercussion whatsoever. Shockingly, Shaw was promoted.”

The San Jose State administration retaliated against whistleblowers “through threats, poor evaluations, and termination.”

“Documentation of abuse was removed or destroyed from Title IX files, information was leaked directly to Shaw, and Hopkins’ complaints were stifled under the specter of legal action by SJSU or Shaw. And so, the abuse continued.”


Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.

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