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Cheerleaders Focus of Seattle Litigation

SEATTLE (CN) - The owner of the Seattle Impact soccer team is "more passionate about" preying upon attractive cheerleaders than he is in soccer, six former employees claim in King County Superior Court.

The employees claim that Dion Earl "launched a brutal campaign of threats, intimidation, and retaliatory actions" against those who didn't "have his back" after he sexually assaulted two cheerleaders.

They also say in the lawsuit that Kevin Milliken, commissioner of Major Arena Soccer League, turned a blind eye to Earl's criminal history, which allegedly included forging a signature on a court order and presenting it to a judge.

The Seattle Impact FC is a professional indoor soccer team that started this year. The team's first season began Saturday.

Lead plaintiff Elizabeth Buslon and five others sued Seattle Impact FC, PASL Soccer, the Major Arena Soccer League, its Commissioner Kevin Milliken, team owner Dion Lee Earl and his wife, on Nov. 6 in King County Court.

"Earl's disturbing history is well documented and easily obtained through Internet searches and public court records," the complaint states. "His past includes criminal charges for theft and an arrest for robbery, and in one case he forged a signature on a court order and presented it to a superior court judge. Earl is named in the Seattle Times database of 'Coaches Who Prey,' after being terminated from a high school for inappropriate behavior with an underage cheerleader."

According to the 42-page lawsuit, from the get-go, Earl "was obsessed with creating a 'dance team' of young and attractive women. He was more passionate about luring 'smoking hot' dancers than he was about a soccer team."

The lawsuit continues: "Acting as owner and chief executive officer, Earl pushed the dancers to purchase skimpy outfits he personally selected from 'Stripper Boutique,' and he invited a dancer to his home for private modeling. Earl then escalated his aggressive sexual conduct and requested 'massages' in late-night text messages, and he barraged female employees with unrelenting sexual innuendo and overtures."

Before the Seattle Impact roster had been completed, Earl searched for female dancers on social media, recruiting young dancers and telling them "that he would 'make them famous,'" according to the complaint.

Earl hired 13 dancers and would call them late at night to try to establish personal connections with them, the women say.

Plaintiff Jessilyn Roberts says Earl inappropriately touched her in a VIP room at a strip club where they had gone to promote the team. She says she declined to go to the private room several times and "felt awkward and terrified."

"Mortified about what had happened and feeling completely violated, Ms. Roberts was uncertain about what to do," the complaint states.

"With dance team auditions the next day, she did not want to ruin her or anyone else's chance of dancing for a professional sports team. She made the difficult decision to internalize what had happened and remained quiet out of fear for what would happen if she revealed what Earl had done to her."

Plaintiff Elizabeth Buslon said Earl pursued her, and offered her the role of dance team co-captain even before she had auditioned. She claims that Earl massaged her without her consent, forcing her to lie down on an ottoman.

"Ms. Buslon protested, telling Earl that she was not comfortable, she did not like what was happening, and reminded him that he was her boss and she wanted to keep things professional," the complaint states.

"Earl was undeterred and said, 'I know I'm your boss, but no one has to know.' He climbed on to Ms. Buslon and straddled her, pressing her face into the ottoman. He whispered to her, 'I know you like me.'"

When Buslon tried to escape, Earl continued to grope her and physically blocked her from leaving, according to the complaint.

Buslon says she obtained a protection order against Earl in October, and reported the assault to the dance team's captain, plaintiff Lauren Baumann.

"Ms. Baumann herself had been subjected to the sexual advances and inappropriate late night communications from Earl," the complaint states.

"Although Ms. Baumann made attempts through policy changes to protect herself and others from Earl's conduct, those policies were clearly no match for Earl's predatory behavior."

Baumann says she spoke with other members of the dance team and drafted a resignation form that they submitted to the Impact's director of operations, Amy David.

When Earl discovered that plaintiff Danielle Esquibel, an administrative assistant, had been in the room when the assaults were reported to David, he asked David to fire Esquibel "because he was worried that she would not 'have his back,'" the complaint states.

When another Impact employee, plaintiff Joe David, said he would report Earl to the police after finding out Amy David had resigned, Earl "summarily terminated" him in retaliation, the complaint states.

The plaintiffs say the Major Arena Soccer League and its Commissioner Kevin Milliken should have known that Earl had a history of abusive behavior and legal troubles related to harassment orders.

"Milliken pacified anyone who confronted him with concerns about Earl stating that, 'He passed the background check,'" the complaint states.

However, the lawsuit continues: "Faced with the fact that over 50 separate criminal and civil court cases are associated with Earl, Milliken dismisses their pertinence and minimizes their importance by falsely attributing the records to Earl's divorce proceedings."

In 1998, Earl was fired after his first year as a high school soccer coach because he made advances towards a 17-year old cheerleader, the complaint states.

It adds: "Despite Earl being identified as a predator and being included in the Coach Misconduct Database (available online), he continued to own and operate youth soccer camps and refer to himself in documents filed with the court as having 'a stellar reputation with kids and coaching.'" (Parentheses in complaint.)

The plaintiffs seek lost wages and damages for negligence, sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, hostile workplace, quid pro quo sexual harassment, assault and battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, retaliation, wrongful firing and failure to pay wages.

They are represented by Donald Heyrich and Jason Rittereiser with HKM Employment Attorneys, of Seattle.

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