LOS ANGELES (CN) - Pepperdine University and its basketball coach shattered the dreams of a lesbian couple for a better education and furthering their basketball careers through such pervasive harassment that it drove one of the women to attempt suicide, the couple claims in a civil rights action filed in Los Angeles state court.
Haley Videckis and Layana White sued Ryan Weisenberg, also known as Coach Ryan, and Pepperdine University for violating their civil right to privacy, as well as violations of California education code and Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972 - which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities.
Pepperdine University maintains ties to the Churches of Christ, but claims on its website to represent many religious backgrounds and students of all races and faiths. The institution says its purpose is to pursue the highest academic standards "within the context that celebrates and extends the spiritual and ethical ideals of the Christian faith."
Videckis and White say in their complaint that the Bible-based university is willing to admit lesbian students but states it will expel them if the students engage in the sin of premarital sex.
Weisenberg - head coach of the Pepperdine women's basketball team - and an academic coordinator named in the complaint only as "Adi" became obsessed with finding out if Videckis and White were in a lesbian relationship, the couple's complaint states. Adi is not a named defendant in the complaint.
The couple says that the harassment began when Adi repeatedly pulled each girl into her office and badgered them with questions about their sexual orientation and the sexuality of the other players, if they traveled together and what their sleeping arrangements were. The questions became so persistent that White had to ask Adi several times to stop asking her those types of invasive questions, according to the complaint.
Toward the end of the school year, the women say that Weisenberg broached the topic of lesbianism at a leadership meeting and stated that "Lesbianism is not tolerated on this team. Lesbianism is a big concern in women's basketball," the complaint states.
After White talked to Weisenberg about Adi's efforts to get information about her personal life, the women claim that Weisenberg said "he would soon be having a coach monitor the meetings with Adi." But Adi continued to plague the girls with questions about their private lives and the nature of their relationship, including asking White "So, do you guys push your beds together in the dorm room?" and "Do you guys sleep together?"
The harassment spilled over into other player's lives when they were asked about their own same-sex dating habits, the couple says. Members of the team were also asked if they had any information about Videckis and White.
Weisenberg asked one player, "Are Hayley and Layana dating?" This inquisition caused several players enough concern that they felt compelled to warn the couple to be careful, the women say.
Weisenberg also urged his team to refrain from intra-team dating, citing his own personal experience on the L.A. Sparks' coaching squad. He blamed an in-season breakup between two players as "the reason our team fell apart and lost," according to the complaint.
"Coach Ryan's comments about lesbians were becoming obsessive and very strange," the women say in the complaint. "When Haley and Layana heard Coach Ryan's statement that he was against the lesbian lifestyle within his team, it made them think Coach Ryan would pull their scholarships if he confirmed their relationship. At this point, Layana began to suffer from severe depression."
The depression and fear - and continued harassment by Weisenberg and Adi - led White to attempt suicide this past September, the complaint states. And after White's suicide attempt, Weisenberg would not allow Videckis to play basketball on the pretext that she did not provide him with the doctor's notes he wanted from her gynecological exam, even though she had given him all her medical records and her gynecological results had nothing to do with playing basketball.
Videckis challenged Weisenberg's decision with the athletic director, whom the women say was "extremely rude and would not let her explain her side of the story."
They add: "Within minutes, Haley was in tears by the way he was yelling at her for bringing this issue to his attention. Haley told him that it felt like the staff was trying to keep both Haley and Layana off the court and get them kicked out of the school," the complaint states.
Neither woman has been allowed to play basketball even now, despite doctors' notes clearing them, according to the complaint. Furthermore, both women sought help from various sources within the university - including the team physician and the university president - and were refused, the woman say.
They also claim that they asked Weisenberg to stop the unfair treatment.
"Coach Ryan refused to help because he believed that the plaintiffs were in a lesbian relationship and, unlike friendship, would by in its inherit nature cause damage to the team," the complaint says. "But at no time herein did Coach Ryan nor Pepperdine University accuse the plaintiffs of having sex."
The couple seeks compensatory damages for emotional distress and punitive damages for defendants' severe and pervasive conduct.
They are represented by Alan Burton Newman of Marina Del Ray, Calif.
Although Pepperdine is a nonprofit, private university, the university touts three Title IX coordinators on its athletics website.
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