An LSU athletics administrator alleged that University officials worked to cover up former football coach Les Miles' sexual harassment cases and then retaliated against her for years after she reported the harassment, USA Today reported Tuesday.
Associate Athletic Director of Football Recruiting Sharon Lewis told USA Today about several senior University officials who she said tormented her, discriminated against her based on her sex and race, underpaid her and contributed to the University’s mishandling of sexual assault reports.
According to USA Today, attorneys representing Lewis said they plan to file multiple lawsuits, including a federal Title IX lawsuit and a state whistleblower lawsuit. Defendants in those lawsuits will include Executive Deputy Athletic Director Verge Ausberry and Senior Associate Athletics Director Miriam Segar.
Lewis told USA Today she experienced a pattern of abusive treatment by Miles, Ausberry, Segar and compliance director Bo Bahnsen, among other athletics officials. Lewis told USA Today that harassment and retaliation against her began within days of Miles’ arrival to campus as head coach in January 2005. She said Ausberry verbally abused her.
Lewis was hired in 2002 and was in charge of coordinating football recruits’ official visits to LSU. She also managed a group of student workers called hostess groups who assisted with recruiting.
These hostess groups, which Lewis said were almost always all-women, were a discrete, yet common part of college football until the NCAA made attempts to stop them in 2004 after incidents at major universities. Some hostesses said football players raped them, and others said they provided recruits with sex and alcohol, according to USA Today.
LSU’s hostess program was called Tiger Pride, and was disbanded around that time. Still, Lewis said the sexualization of LSU’s football recruiting staff continued after Miles’ hiring.
Lewis told USA Today that Miles pressured her to replace Black workers on her recruiting staff with blonde women or light-skinned Black women. She said when she refused, Miles ordered others to get Lewis to follow his plans. Lewis said she attempted to report his behavior, but her reports fell on deaf ears.
Lewis said Miles made other comments about her employees, including that they had “too many fat girls, Black girls and ugly girls.” Miles said they “look like a bad bowling team,” according to Lewis.
In one instance that Lewis told USA Today about, she said former running backs coach Frank Wilson and then-director of personnel Sherman Morris told her to hire fewer Black women. Lewis said Wilson and Morris met with some of her colleagues to get them to influence her to comply.
Lewis reported the situation to Ausberry and other administrators, but she said they seemed to side with Miles. Lewis said Bahnsen implied that it might be time for her to find another job.
“That is when the panic started to set in, because I realized they didn’t have my back,” Lewis told USA Today.
In 2012, Miles began personally interviewing student workers in his office at night, Lewis said. This was authorized by Ausberry and other athletic administrators, Lewis said, and led to the sexual harassment of multiple of her employees. It also led to an internal investigative report, one that Lewis said campus officials and board members attempted to conceal.
Some of her employees told Lewis that Miles asked them about their sex lives during those meetings.
A student came to Lewis in 2013 and was upset about something that happened when she was alone with Miles. Lewis said the student told her that Miles “got on top of her in his office on his couch,” USA Today reported, and the student wanted to confront Miles about it.
Another football operations employee who was at the meeting told Husch Blackwell that the woman was “completely traumatized” by the incident.
“This child had a dead stare... she just kept saying, over and over, ‘you know what you did to me,’” the employee said, according to the Husch Blackwell report.
Lewis told Husch Blackwell that the interaction was “emotional” and “traumatic.” Husch Blackwell found no records that the student’s complaint was investigated under University policy, according to USA Today.
According to Husch Blackwell, former Athletic Director Joe Alleva told Miles to “refrain from contact with student workers” after the incident.
In February 2013, USA Today reported that another student worker told Lewis that Miles made sexual advances toward her and sent her inappropriate text messages. Lewis reported the incident, and Taylor Porter law firm investigated. That investigation report shows that Miles put his phone number in her phone under an alias, and did the same for her in his phone.
The investigation shows that Miles texted the student, hired her to babysit his kids and invited her to a movie. According to USA Today, the student said Miles picked her up in his car one day and kissed her twice while parked behind an athletic department building.
Miles denied the allegations, according to USA Today, and said he was just mentoring young women. The investigation concluded that Miles’ behavior was inappropriate but was not behavior prohibited under law.
Lewis told USA Today that after the incidents with Miles, he and other LSU athletic department employees retaliated against her for years. The USA Today report outlined multiple occasions of harassment that Lewis faced, including her being excluded from pay raises that other athletics officials received.
She told stories of Miles demanding that a Black student worker leave the building because she was “ugly” and Miles ordering Lewis to fire a student “because he looked gay,” according to USA Today.
Lewis said she faced hostility from Ausberry after Miles left, and told USA Today that Ausberry has screamed at her during meetings and belittled her.