(CN) – A former softball player for Kent State University claims in a federal complaint that the school made life miserable for her when she reported that the coach’s son had raped her.
Karen Linder, the coach named as a defendant to the Feb. 9 complaint, resigned this past August after 19 seasons with Kent State’s Golden Flashes.
The 34-page complaint says Linder’s resignation occurred just days after the school’s athletic director blocked shortstop Lauren Kesterson from filing a formal complaint under Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sexual discrimination in education.
Kesterson says Linder’s son Tucker had attacked her nearly three years before when both were freshman enrolled at Kent State.
A scholarship athlete, Kesterson says she had engaged in “minor intimacies” with Tucker, a star baseball player, during their first semester at school.
When they were alone together on Dec. 7, 2012, Kesterson allegedly told Tucker “at least ten times that she did not want to have sex.”
Tucker “appeared to be intoxicated,” however, ignored the teen’s protests and raped her, according to the complaint.
Though she got tested for pregnancy and STDs, Kesterson says shame kept her from reporting the assault immediately.
Compounding depression after the assault, the complaint says Kesterson was forced to see her assailant at the training facilities the softball and baseball teams shared.
At a party in 2013, Tucker screamed at Kesterson’s boyfriend, “Just so you know: I fucked your girl,” according to the complaint.
Kesterson says the emotional strain caused her academic performance to decline. She began to vomit frequently and lose weight.
Coach Linder allegedly confronted the issue head-on in spring 2013, asking Kesterson if she had been sexually assaulted.
Kesterson says she replied in the affirmative, and Linder asked: “It wasn’t my son, was it?”
Linder then cried and apologized, but asked Kesterson not to tell anybody else and to “keep this between the people that know,” according to the complaint.
Kesterson says this reaction contradicted Linder’s obligation to handle what qualified as a report under Title IX.
Worried that she would lose her athletic scholarship and position on the team, Kesterson initially agreed not to press criminal charges against Tucker and to remain silent on the matter, the complaint states.
Kent State University policies require employees to report all instances of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct to the school’s Title IX coordinator, according to the complaint.
Kesterson says Linder knew of those policies and followed them on another occasion when a different softball player reported a rape just a few days before Kesterson.
Alleging that Linder’s “extreme indifference” toward Kesterson amplified her anguish, Kesterson notes that she was forced to attend team events at the coach’s house, where Kesterson was surrounded by pictures and a life-sized wall decal of Tucker.
“Ms. Kesterson spent her entire junior year under the control of her rapist’s mother, a woman who displayed no compassion for what Ms. Kesterson had endured,” the complaint states. “Coach Linder’s treatment of Ms. Kesterson substantially diminished Ms. Kesterson’s capacity to function as a student-athlete and her ability to equally participate in the university’s programs and activities.”
Kesterson says she resolved that summer to file a formal Title IX complaint, but that school officials intervened. Instead of firing Linder for cause, Kent State’s athletic director offered the four-time MAC Coach of the Year the opportunity to resign.
The complaint quotes an interview Linder gave to the Record-Courier newspaper of Portage County last year, in which she blamed her departure on entitled student athletes.
“When I first started coaching kids wanted to play, and they looked at you as a leader,” she said, as quoted in the complaint. “If you told kids to do something, they would do it because they trusted that it was going to help them get better. Now when you tell a kid to do something, some of them need three reasons why they need to do it this way. It’s a world of entitlement, and I’ve struggled with that.”
Kesterson says Linder’s misleading remarks created a retaliatory environment and an atmosphere of hostility in the athletic community.
The coach named as Linder’s interim replacement banned the team from speaking negatively about Linder, according to the complaint.
Kesterson says some alumni and current softball players even wrote T-shirts that read “We Support Karen Linder” during an alumni football weekend.
When Kesterson’s teammates eventually learned that she had been the player who complained about Linder, they blamed her for the forced resignation, according to the complaint.
Kesterson says the retaliatory environment caused her to suffer panic attacks and left her with no choice but to quit the softball team.
She seeks punitive damages for sex discrimination, violations of the 14th Amendment and emotional distress.
Kesterson is represented by Cleveland-based attorney Subodh Chandra.
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