LSU's associate athletic director of football recruiting alleges she was subjected to a hostile work environment and years of retaliation after she repeatedly attempted to report sexual harassment allegations involving former head football coach Les Miles, according to a new report from USA Today.
Sharon Lewis, who also oversees alumni relations for the Athletic Department, told USA Today she plans this week to file a series of lawsuits, including a federal Title IX lawsuit, a state whistleblower lawsuit, an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission grievance and a lawsuit alleging violations of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO.
Lewis, who is Black, alleges she has been discriminated against based on her race and sex, underpaid and punished for trying to stop sexual harassment on campus. Lewis has not filed the lawsuits yet; her representatives sent out a news release Tuesday afternoon saying that they planned to file the lawsuits Wednesday and would hold a news conference then.
USA Today published a story about the legal filings Tuesday based on interviews with Lewis and advance copies of the suits.
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Defendants expected to be named in Lewis' lawsuits include Athletic Director Scott Woodward, former LSU President F. King Alexander, Executive Deputy Athletic Director Verge Ausberry, Senior Associate Athletic Director Miriam Segar, Senior Associate Athletic Director Bo Bahnsen, various LSU Board of Supervisors members and the law firm Taylor Porter. The news release says Lewis is seeking $50 million.
“Members of the LSU Board of Supervisors, LSU Athletic Department, LSU Leadership and their law firm, Taylor Porter entered into a conspiracy to hide Les Miles’ sexual harassment investigation from federal officials and the public and to retaliate against Ms. Lewis," said one of Lewis' attorneys, Tammye Brown in the news release Tuesday. "Over the last eight years, Ms. Lewis has stood up to protect LSU female student workers and as a result has suffered unimaginable retaliation sanctioned by the LSU Board of Supervisors.”
Lewis' role overseeing LSU's recruiting office led to frequent clashes between her and Miles. Those disagreements often centered on the types of students Lewis hired to work in the office.
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Many of the allegations in Lewis' threatened lawsuit are referenced in the recent report by the law firm Husch Blackwell, which was hired by LSU to investigate the university's handling of sexual misconduct allegations. But the lawsuits add detail to those accounts.
For instance, Lewis told USA Today that Miles pressured her to replace Black student workers with blonde or light-skinned Black women whom Miles believed more attractive. She also told the newspaper that within Miles' first few days on the job, he announced to a room of coaches that he preferred blondes working in his office, and later complimented a blonde as "the face of recruiting."
Another time, Lewis said that Miles told her the recruiting office had "too many fat girls, Black girls and ugly girls," USA Today reported. Lewis said she reported her interactions with Miles to her superiors — including Ausberry and Bahnsen — but they hinted that perhaps she should find a different job.
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Miles' attorney, Peter Ginsberg, denied those allegations to USA Today. He has claimed that Miles did nothing wrong during his time at LSU, and was unfairly investigated based on false claims.
But Lewis told USA Today that in early 2012, Miles — enabled by those around him — started to interview student workers alone in his office at night. Some of the female students told Lewis that Miles asked about their sex lives, including one who said that Miles asked whether she was a virgin, according to USA Today.
In January 2013, Lewis said a student reported that Miles "got on top of her in his office on his couch," leaving her traumatized, according to USA Today.
LSU commissioned Taylor Porter to investigate Miles that spring for sexual harassment involving two female students; Lewis told USA Today that she was unaware of that probe, which was shared with very few people at LSU.
One student told Taylor Porter that Miles had suggested they go to a hotel or his condo together, and that the coach had kissed her inside his car.
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Taylor Porter and the group of LSU employees involved in the investigation decided that Miles could no longer be alone with female students, needed to attend counseling, could not text or contact student workers from his personal phones and could not hire them to babysit. They never shared the investigation publicly. It was finally released to the public earlier this year after USA Today filed a lawsuit demanding a copy.
Lewis told USA Today that she suffered a mental breakdown over how she was treated at LSU, and that she feels unsupported in her work environment. She said Segar helped her to get counseling.
Lewis also singled out Ausberry as among those who took retaliatory action against her. The Husch Blackwell report noted that several athletic department employees said they witnessed Ausberry “hollering and screaming” at her. One employee told Husch Blackwell that the way Ausberry treated Lewis was of serious concern.
Ausberry, who declined to comment for this story, told Husch Blackwell that he never treated Lewis inappropriately, adding that they had a “brother-sister” relationship.
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“He is not my brother but my supervisor,” Lewis told USA Today, “and he should not be allowed to treat me this way.”
Lewis also told the newspaper that Segar often decided on her own that certain instances she'd reported did not warrant Title IX investigations. She said that's how she became the subject of a Title IX investigation in 2018, after a student said that Lewis failed to properly follow up on her 2016 allegation that an LSU football player had physically abused her.
LSU's Title IX office found that Lewis had failed to report the abuse, and therefore was responsible for violating Title IX. But LSU's human resources department never formally disciplined Lewis. USA Today reported that Lewis sent the office a letter outlining the Athletic Department's retaliation against her, and the HR department removed the Title IX violation from her file.
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Lewis' attorney, Larry English, did not return messages Tuesday.