CINCINNATI (CN) – A lawsuit against the head coach of the University of Cincinnati women’s volleyball team accuses her of body shaming a black athlete and dropping her from the team because of photos she posted on Instagram.
Shalom Ifeanyi followed up a complaint with the university’s Title IX Office with a federal lawsuit Tuesday claiming that from the moment head coach Molly Alvey recruited the African-American volleyball player in January 2017, she “began harassing and shaming” her.
Alleging race and sex discrimination, Ifeanyi says that Alvey had courted her since high school but singled her out and treated her differently than other girls on the team by calling attention to pictures she posted on her social media accounts.
Ifeanyi, represented by Ryan McGraw of Rittgers & Rittgers, claims the head coach told her to remove the Instagram images, calling them “too sexy” but that “no such requests were made to other members of the women’s volleyball team who were of slighter build and lighter complexion despite photographs picturing them in outfits, including but not limited to, two-piece swimsuits.”
The student-athlete says she restricted photos she posted on social media to headshots but that still failed to satisfy Alvey.
Between February and June 2017, Ifeanyi claims she was sidelined with a knee injury and underwent surgery. She says she was called into Alvey’s office in June when the head coach demanded that she pull up her Instagram account.
Alvey allegedly ordered her to remove an image from her profile that showed her wearing a white tank top.
“When the football players see this, what do you think they see? They see your breasts. It’s seductive,” Alvey said, according to the lawsuit.
The student-athlete claims she feared “retaliation and continued shaming from Alvey” and deleted the image.
Ifeanyi says the coach’s alleged harassment did not end there. A day after her 19th birthday, the coach again allegedly ordered her to remove images from her Instagram profile.
According to an exhibit filed with the lawsuit, a text message from “Coach Molly” states: “Shalom, please remove these pictures today.” The text message attaches images that depict Ifeanyi wearing a black tank top.
Ifeanyi says she stood her ground. In another text message attached to the complaint, she said she felt “body shamed” even though the image did not show her breasts.
“I can’t make them go away,” Ifeanyi wrote back to the coach. “In these pictures I just got my hair done and I really liked my makeup and thought the pictures were pretty.”
She added: “My teammates have swimsuit photos that are more revealing than me in a tank top.”
Ifeanyi also wrote that she was “being sexualized.”
“There’s a history of black women because of their bodies being sexualized and that’s what appears to be happening to me,” Ifeanyi said in the text message. “I can’t help the way I’m built. I am not trying to argue, I just feel like I have to be flat chested or real skinny in order to post.”
Ifeanyi claims she was called into the office a week later and Alvey told her that she was dropping her from the team. In the intervening time, Ifeanyi’s coaches had named her top performer of the week.
“The only explanation offered by Alvey was that she and plaintiff ‘had different philosophies,’” the 13-page complaint states. “When plaintiff asked if her dismissal had anything to do with her text response the prior week, Alvey indicated that she read it, but would not discuss it further and offered no other reason for this devastating action.”
Because of NCAA transfer rules and regulations, Ifeanyi – who says she has played volleyball all her life – cannot play competitive volleyball for the 2018-2019 season and says that means she will not be able to secure an athletic scholarship to pay for her tuition and education costs during that time.
She claims that she has since enrolled in another university to complete her undergraduate degree.
Even though she filed a Title IX complaint nine months ago, she alleges the university failed to complete the investigation. It did not give her an opportunity to appeal the decision to strip her of her scholarship and place on the team, the complaint states.
University of Cincinnati spokesman Ryan Koslen said that he could not comment on the pending litigation. Alvey and athletic director Maggie McKinley did not respond Tuesday to multiple requests for comment.
In addition to claims of race and sex discrimination, Ifeanyi alleges sexual harassment, retaliation, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and denial of due process. She seeks damages, attorney fees and costs.
Her attorney, McGraw, said that the lawsuit and allegations speak for themselves and that he could not comment further.
Last year, Alvey was named head coach of the USA Collegiate Team after she led the Cincinnati Bearcats to the NCAA tournament in the 2016 season for the first time since 2011. For her efforts, she was honored as American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.