OCALA, Fla. (CN) – A school board refused to reprimand male high school coaches who sexually harassed members of their girls’ soccer team, and expelled one of the girls, and her sister, in retaliation for their complaints, the girls and their family say.
Plaintiffs Stacey Biggie, then a sophomore, and A.S., a freshman, played on the Citrus High School girl’s JV soccer team in 2008, according to the federal complaint.
“Stacey Bigge became offended and uncomfortable and Miss S. became ‘creeped out’ regarding the way the coaching staff interacted with members of the girls’ soccer team during the daily practices, as the male coaches directed references of male and female genitalia, sexual touching, and physical appearance at the girls on the team,” according to the complaint.
Ethan Eldridge, Ryan Foster, and Andrew Castorina are the coaching staff involved in this case, but are not listed defendants.
The 9-page complaint claims that “the incidents included, but were not limited to the following:
“a) Coach Ryan Foster’s desire to watch the girls shower;
“b) Coach Foster ‘pantsing’ or pulling down the pants of a varsity player; …
“d) Coach Castorina said, ‘you deliberately tried to touch my nuts’;
“e) Coach Castorina also made a comment about hitting a teammate with a ball in the vagina; and
“f) Coach Castorina told another girl that her shirt was too tight for her chest.”
The girls and their parents complained to the coaches and to the defendant District School Board of Citrus County about the coaches’ behavior and remarks, and the school board said it would investigate.
“Citing to the Professional Code of Conduct and Castorina’s obligation not to expose students to ‘unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement,’ defendant determined that Castorina made an ‘inappropriate comment’ that ‘had a demeaning effect on some of the younger players,’ reprimanded him, and suspended him without pay during its investigation of the Bigge/Canfield complaints,” the complaint states.
“Moreover, during the course of its investigation, defendant received corroborating written statements from soccer team members and Eldridge himself that Castorina and Eldridge threatened to eliminate the girls’ JV soccer team, knew who made the complaints against them, and would kick those girls off the team, but defendant determined that there was no violation.”
The girls say that after the investigation they no longer felt welcome on the soccer team. They quit.
“Stacey Bigge and Miss S. also felt intimidated because defendant’s agents Castorina and Eldridge sent letters, through their attorney, threatening to sue Mr. Bigge and
Mr. Canfield if they continued ‘to slander them,'” the complaint states.
It continues: “Even though there was an ongoing investigation at the U.S. Department of Education, Defendant took no action against Castorina or Eldridge.
“Then, on February 5, 2009, Castorina and Eldridge urged defendant to retaliate against Mr. Bigge by expelling Stacey Bigge and Katie Bigge from Citrus High School claiming that the girls lived out of zone.
“Specifically, in an email addressed to Citrus High Principal, Leigh Ann Bradshaw,
Eldridge stated, ‘Mr. Castorina and I are writing this in conjunction with the investigations brought against us by Mr. [name redacted].’
“On that same date, Eldridge also emailed Bradshaw that ‘Stacey and Katie Bigge are
out of zone without a waiver’.
“Four days later, on February 9, 2009, Eldridge again emailed defendant urging them to kick the Bigge Sisters out of school.
“Specifically, Eldridge stated, ‘Andrew [Castorina] and I would like to see some action taken in this regard’.
“On February 13, 2009, defendant expelled the Bigge sisters stating that their educational records would be sent to Sumter County and that they would begin school in Sumter County on February 19, 2009.”
The girls’ family points out that when the school board expelled the girls, it “sent the expulsion letter to the Bigge’s in-zone address.”
The families seek an injunction, costs and damages for Title IX violations and retaliation.
They are represented by Adria Silva of Naples.