Sharon Lewis Press Conference

The legal team representing LSU Associate Athletic Director Sharon Lewis in her $50 million lawsuit against the University host a press conference on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 in front of the 19th District Court.

Last week, Associate Athletic Director Sharon Lewis announced a $50 million lawsuit against the University. The list of defendants includes the LSU Board of Supervisors, F. King Alexander, Joe Alleva, Verge Ausberry, Les Miles and Miriam Segar, among others.

Lewis alleges that the University athletic department and Taylor Porter — the law firm hired to investigate sexual harassment claims against former Head Football Coach Les Miles — “entered into a conspiracy to hide Les Miles’ sexual harassment investigation from federal officials and the public and to retaliate against Ms. Lewis.”

In a recent interview with USA TODAY, Lewis chronicled Miles’ behavior and the alleged retaliation she received for not giving in to his gross demands.

According to Lewis, Miles told her she was hiring “too many fat girls, Black girls and ugly girls” in the athletics office and pressured her to start hiring women he saw as more attractive or even to allow him to be directly involved in the hiring process. 

When she refused, Miles became aggressive to the point that Lewis would hide under her desk to avoid him. 

During this time, multiple sexual harassment allegations were made against Miles by women working in the athletics department.

One woman came to Lewis “very upset about something that had happened when she was alone with Coach Miles.” Other employees recalled that the woman looked “completely traumatized.” Lewis immediately reported this to Senior Associate Athletic Director Miriam Segar, but athletics employees told Husch Blackwell that “the University never did anything about it.” The woman in question soon “fell off the face of the Earth,” Lewis said.

Husch Blackwell determined that these claims were handled inappropriately and expressed concern at the lack of evidence that the women who brought allegations against Miles were ever informed of their rights or given proper resources or support.

As noted in the Husch Blackwell report, Lewis said she "repeatedly expressed her concerns [about Miles’ behavior] to various athletics administrators and she felt those reports ‘went nowhere.’

Lewis also alleges that when she told her fellow athletics employees about the harassment from Miles, she was told she should either do what he wanted or find a job at a different university. She describes feeling isolated and humiliated and explains that the culmination of these stressors ultimately caused her to have a mental breakdown.

Husch Blackwell noted that the University never investigated Lewis’ allegations. In fact, Lewis was the only athletics employee ever subject to a Title IX investigation, something Husch Blackwell called “ironic.

Lewis’ claims build upon a point made in the Husch Blackwell report: the University went to great efforts to bury the Les Miles harassment cases.

“Again, there was no file of this matter at the University,” the report reads. “Instead, the report regarding the investigation was intentionally stored offsite at LSU’s outside counsel’s office and with Miles’ attorneys.” 

The University’s files — both in the HR department and in the Title IX Office — contain no documentation of the serious accusations made against Miles. The fact that the University went to such lengths to ensure that its own Title IX Office did not have any record of allegations made against one of the most powerful figures on campus is deeply troubling.

Lewis’ allegations are consistent with a culture in the athletics department that would go to the ends of the Earth to shield the reputation of the University and its head football coach, damning the women who were harassed and intimidated in the process. Together, the findings of the Husch Blackwell report and the claims made by Lewis lead to a disappointing yet unsurprising conclusion: the University places little value on the well-being of women on campus.

Interim President Tom Galligan can point to the new action plan all he wants, but the University still fails to address some of the most stomach-churning revelations of the past few months. It seems the only major failing the University is willing to grapple with is the severe underfunding and understaffing of the Title IX Office, as well as the poor wording of the Title IX mandatory reporting policy.

However, neither of those issues — as important as they are — explain the disgusting shortcomings of the University in regard to Miles. I would also be hesitant to even categorize those particular issues with the Title IX Office as recent revelations, as the University has, in fact, known about and ignored them for years — that is, until a PR nightmare came to town.

I am sick of the University pretending that those issues — understaffing, underfunding and poor policy wording — are where this problem starts and ends. 

The University covered up sexual harassment allegations against its head football coach for years, and now Lewis alleges retaliation against her for refusing to fall in line with the inaction and passive acceptance of Miles’ behavior that categorized much of the rest of the athletics department. 

Those who were both complicit and actively involved in these profoundly unethical acts remain at this institution. The job security enjoyed by University officials who multiplied the pain of survivors, disregarded moral and legal boundaries and ignored disturbing allegations truly boggles the mind. 

The University responded to Lewis’ lawsuit coldly: “Following the press conference by her counsel, we believe that this lawsuit is an attempt to take advantage of the situation for personal benefit. We intend to defend these claims vigorously and not let it distract us from our true goals of improving our university.” 

What the University fails to acknowledge is that recognizing the merits of Lewis’ claims is an essential step to “improving" our University. In fact, there is no moving forward at all until these claims are addressed and thoroughly investigated. The fact that the University sees uncovering the truth as incompatible with resolving the historical Title IX failures on this campus is extremely telling.

Instead of taking Lewis’ allegations seriously, the University is capitalizing on them. After numerous University officials already declined to come to the Louisiana Senate Select Committee on Women and Children hearing, the University had the audacity to claim that no one from the school was going to testify because of the Lewis lawsuit. 

It’s clear the University intends to use the Lewis lawsuit as a shield from future public testimony. Frankly, it looks like the administration was ready to abandon its “commitment to transparency” at the first available opportunity.

Since we can’t do it the easy way, I urge the Louisiana Senate to look into using subpoena powers to get answers out of University officials; the facts are immutable, and this lawsuit should not prevent employees from testifying.

The University is eagerly waiting for the dust of the past few months to settle, for the news cycle to turn over and for the public to move on. Well, they can keep waiting, because there will be no peace for this administration until there is accountability.

Claire Sullivan is an 18-year-old coastal environmental science freshman from Southbury, CT.

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