SJSU Agrees to Pay $1.6 Million, Adopt Reforms to Settle Athletes’ Claims of Sexual Harassment

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California today announced a settlement with San José State University to ensure that students can attend school and participate in college athletics free from sexual harassment, including sexual assault.

Federal officials said that during the 15-month investigation under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, ”SJSU fully cooperated and worked in good faith with the Justice Department.”

The results of the investigation announced today nonetheless concluded that SJSU “failed to comply in certain respects with Title IX's prohibitions against sex discrimination.”
San Jose State told the Justice Department that while it disputed the findings, it would agree to settle the case to avoid a protracted legal battle over “disputed issues,” DOJ officials said today.

Federal investigators concluded 23 SJSU student athletes were inappropriately touched by former athletic trainer Scott Shaw, who resigned in September 2020.

Of these, 13 have accepted the university’s settlement offer to date, according to officials.

The scandal at the university began in 2009 when Spartans swim coach Sage Hopkins first brought forward the allegations of inappropriate touching of female swimmers by Shaw during massage sessions.

Justice Department officials said today that was seeking “to provide transparency to the SJSU community about the United States and SJSU's shared goal of ensuring Title IX compliance and to help students and employees understand their rights under Title IX.”

The department found that SJSU failed for more than a decade to respond adequately to reports of sexual harassment, including sexual assault, of female student-athletes by “an athletic trainer then working at SJSU.” The report did not mention Shaw.

Today’s report said that “beginning in 2009, female student-athletes reported that the trainer subjected them to repeated, unwelcome sexual touching of their breasts, groins, buttocks, and/or pubic areas during treatment in the campus training facilities.”

The department concluded that for years, SJSU’s ineffective response “exposed additional student-athletes to harm.”

The department also found that SJSU retaliated against two SJSU employees. The first employee repeatedly alerted school officials to the threat the athletic trainer posed, and the second employee expressed opposition to retaliating against the reporting employee and was terminated by SJSU.

The department and SJSU entered into a comprehensive agreement to address the findings of the investigation, which began in June 2020.

“No student should be subjected to sexual harassment at a college or university in our country, especially by an employee who wields a position of power,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “With this agreement, San José State University will provide relief to survivors and transform its Title IX process to ensure accountability in its athletics program and create a safer campus for all its students.”
Clarke thanked current and former students who came forward and shared their experiences, and the employees “who unceasingly advocated for their students.”

“Because of them, San José State University will adopt major reforms to prevent such an abuse of authority from happening ever again,” she said.

Federal investigators said they reviewed thousands of pages of university documents, including documents related to the 2009-10 and 2020-21 investigations into allegations against Shaw, whome it did not name, as well as the related retaliation against SJSU Athletics employees.

The investigators also spoke to a broad cross-section of SJSU constituents and conducted 35 interviews, including interviews with current and former SJSU administrators, coaches, athletic trainers, and staff, as well as interviews with current and former student-athletes.

In addition, the Justice Department created a community email address and toll-free phone number, through which the public was able to provide relevant information.

“The department’s findings provide a stark reminder that schools must respond quickly to protect students from sexual harassment. Title IX requires no less,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds for the Northern District of California. “We acknowledge the San José State University students and employees whose efforts shined a light on this issue and look forward to working with the university to implement this important agreement.”

Nearly five months after the initial reporting of the allegations, the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity concluded that Shaw had not violated any University policy. At that time, SJSU office informed only one student-athlete—the student identified as the complainant—of the final outcome of the investigation and did not inform the other student-athletes who had also reported sexual harassment. None of the student-athletes, including the one complainant, was offered any supportive nor remedial measures by SJSU or SJSU Athletics.

“Many of the affected student-athletes recounted feelings of frustration and discomfort seeing the athletic trainer so freely working on campus and in the SJSU athletic facilities, traveling with teams and treating other student-athletes,” today’s report said. “Some said they experienced stress and anxiety surrounding athletic training as well as physical therapy, and some even became reluctant to seek treatment for potential or sustained injuries.”

Without SJSU’s protection, several of the student-athletes took it upon themselves to warn other student-athletes, said federal investigators.

Under the agreement, among other relief, SJSU said it will:

  • Significantly improve SJSU’s process for responding to complaints of sexual harassment
  • Bolster the Title IX Office by revising the office structure and providing adequate authority, independence, and resources to the Title IX Coordinator
  • Publicize Title IX policies and protocols and develop user-friendly materials so everyone in the SJSU community knows how to report Title IX concerns
  • Improve the policies and procedures of the SJSU Sports Medicine and Athletics Training Program to prevent sexual harassment by athletic trainers
  • Deliver training to student athletes and SJSU Athletics employees on giving and receiving informed consent for medical treatments and athletic training services
  • Survey SJSU Athletics employees to assess their understanding of SJSU policies and identify barriers to reporting
  • Take concrete steps to prevent retaliation under Title IX, including through training that provides clear examples of prohibited conduct
  • Provide supportive measures and remedies to current and former student-athletes who were sexually harassed by the athletic trainer.

The agreement also requires SJSU to pay financial relief totaling $1.6 million to individuals who were sexually harassed by the athletic trainer and who came forward to participate in the department’s Title IX investigation or SJSU’s internal investigations. The Justice Department will monitor implementation of the agreement through the 2024-2025 academic year.

Every six months, through the 2024-25 school year, SJSU is required to report to the Justice Department:

  • Documentation of all reports of sexual harassment and retaliation involving any student athlete or SJSU Athletics employee and SJSU's response to such reports
  • Analysis of patterns in sexual harassment and retaliation cases involving students
  • Documentation of trainings and surveys required by the Agreement
  • Documentation of meetings between SJSU Athletics leaders, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and student athletic teams
  • Written concerns or recommendations received by the Title IX Office or Office of the President relating to SJSU's Title IX obligations
  • Any new programs or activities by SJSU aimed at improving its sexual harassment prevention and response.

Individuals with information related to SJSU’s compliance with Title IX are encouraged to contact the Department of Justice at 1-833-591-0289.

The enforcement of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education programs and activities operated by recipients of federal financial assistance, is a top priority of the Civil Rights Division.  Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website, and also about the work of the Educational Opportunities Section.  Additional information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of California is available on its website.

Members of the public may report possible civil rights violations here.

Here are links to the Summary of the Department’s Title IX Investigation  the Summary of  the Resolution Agreement.

 

2 Comments

  1. Nicely moderated conversation SJI. So glad I’m on a monthly contribution schedule to help support you professional journalists.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *