On March 11, 2022, Lieff Cabraser and FeganScott filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of three University of San Francisco (USF) Baseball student-athletes against the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), USF, and two USF coaches, Nino Giarratano and Troy Nakamura, alleging a long-standing history of abuse of student-athletes by the coaches, ranging from inappropriate yelling and humiliation to wildly sexualized behavior as a routine intimidation tactic, including sexualized exercises and nudity on the field.
The complaint includes allegations that the NCAA failed to protect the student-athletes from sexual abuse and harassment, and also failed to create and enforce prohibitions of sexual contact between coaches and student-athletes.
In addition to the litany of abuses by the coaches, the complaint also details multiple attempts made by parents and others to demand the Jesuit university to step in to protect the student-athletes from ongoing abuse, only to have the school administration repeatedly ignore calls for assistance.
The 113-page complaint also cites records that show that of the 17 recruits in the 2020 USF baseball class, eight have transferred and two more are attempting to transfer, a 60% attrition rate. The national average for baseball student-athletes entering the transfer portal is 2%.
According to one USF student-athlete, he left the program after contemplating suicide due to the coaches’ abuse.
“The student-athletes and their parents are absolutely horrified by the abusive behavior of the coaches, which was compounded by the school’s choice to ignore their pleas for help,” said Elizabeth Fegan, founding partner of FeganScott and one of the attorneys representing the students. “In my work representing student-athletes in similar cases, I see this as another example of schools doing everything to protect their sports programs and revenue stream at the expense of abused and traumatized student-athletes.”
Fegan noted that in addition to the series of impassioned appeals from the parents to the school and its athletic director, the NCAA and USF administration should have seen the unprecedented queue of student-athletes fleeing the program as an indication of a problem. “I do not know what is more unctuous: that the NCAA and USF administration somehow failed to recognize the problem, or that they knowingly ignored it.”
The lawsuit details how the sexualized abuse and bullying was so profound that many of the student-athletes became severely depressed, affecting their ability to study, and, in at least one student, was so extreme that the stress of the abuse created health issues leading to five emergency room visits. Others sought support from a range of mental health professionals.
“These are impressionable young men who tried to look up to their coaches as mentors and role models,” Fegan added. “When instead they saw their coaches continually displaying crude and sexually aberrant behavior, they looked to one another to ask, ‘Is this normal?’ It is to their huge collective credit that in response they had the presence of mind and courage to say, ‘No, it isn’t.’”
The complaint details two instances, the most recent in November 2021, in which a coach dropped his pants in view of players on the field and gyrated his hips to spin his penis. This is in addition to a third instance where a coach put on a “skit” and pretended to be at a buffet, and told a player to do a handstand, then grabbed the player’s legs and mimed eating spaghetti out of the player’s genital area. Further instances include coaches screaming profanities at public games so foul that parents of the opposing team reported the event.
“This is every parent’s nightmare, sending their son or daughter off to college only to learn that the trust they’ve placed in the coaches and school — and the NCAA — to protect their kid from abuse is misplaced,” said Jonathan Selbin, a senior partner at Lieff Cabraser who has led the firm’s litigation against University of Southern California and University of Michigan involving sexual abuse of students, and serves as co-counsel on the present suit. “What’s most vexing is that stories like this happen over and over again, making lawsuits like this one of the only ways to affect change.”
The lawsuit, filed by the law firms FeganScott and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that the NCAA facilitated the coaches’ behavior by not implementing rules or imposing sanctions that would require member schools to take steps to prevent abuse by coaches, to force the school administrative faculty to pay attention to the complaints that do get made and to deter the perpetrators.
The lawsuit includes further allegations that the NCAA’s failure to prohibit sexual abuse contributed to threatening environments at its member institutions. Allegations against the coaches include verbal abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation, and public shaming.
FeganScott is a national class-action law firm dedicated to helping victims of sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Beth Fegan, the firm’s founder and managing member, represents the group of survivors suing criminally convicted movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. The firm, championed by acclaimed veteran, class-action attorneys who have successfully recovered $1 billion for victims nationwide, has helped survivors of sexual abuse reclaim their lives and seek compensation from their perpetrators. FeganScott is committed to pursuing successful outcomes with integrity and excellence while holding the responsible parties accountable.
About Lieff Cabraser
Lieff Cabraser is a national law firm that represents individuals and small businesses in a variety of individual and class action cases, including cases brought by survivors of sexual abuse against physicians, teachers, and the institutions who employ them, including the groundbreaking sexual abuse class action against the University of Southern California filed on behalf of nearly 18,000 women who were abused by USC gynecologist George Tyndall. Lieff Cabraser served as Co-Lead Class Counsel in the USC suit, securing an historic $215 million settlement for the survivors that also included sweeping institutional reforms requiring USC to make significant and substantial changes to ensure such sexual abuse never happens again on its campus. Lieff Cabraser is currently serving as Co-Lead Class Counsel in litigation against the University of Michigan on behalf of student-patient and other survivors of sexual abuse by the late Dr. Robert E. Anderson.