San Jose State University must pay at least $1.6 million to women athletes sexually abused by its longtime sports medicine director, after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation confirmed Tuesday that school officials violated Title IX by mishandling their complaints.
The DOJ investigation found that San Jose State “failed for more than a decade to respond adequately to reports of sexual harassment, including sexual assault,” by female athletes against former director of sports medicine Scott Shaw. As a result, additional women athletes continued to endure Shaw’s abuse until as recently as last year.
The DOJ findings confirmed the findings of other investigations and previous reporting by USA TODAY, which first revealed the allegations against Shaw in April 2020. Nearly two dozen women athletes have reported to San Jose State beginning in 2009 that Shaw had massaged their breasts, groin, buttocks and/or pubic areas, sometimes beneath their undergarments, under the guise of medical treatment.
“Our clients went over a decade believing that they were wrong, that they shouldn’t have spoken up,” said attorney Shounak Dharap, who represents several women who said Shaw abused them.
“Our clients essentially felt gaslighted by the university because of the way the university conducted its first investigation. They were told in 2009 and 2010 that there was nothing there. So to have a finding by the DOJ over a decade later is incredibly vindicating to our clients.”
San Jose State’s original investigation of Shaw in 2010 cleared him of wrongdoing. This year, the California State University System’s Title IX office conducted a new investigation that substantiated 10 women’s allegations against Shaw, which spanned more than a decade.
“This harassment was preventable,” the DOJ letter says. “The heightened risk of sexual harassment within SJSU Athletics was known, but in neither its 2009-10 or 2020-21 investigations, nor in the intervening years when employees reminded SJSU of the ongoing threat, did SJSU take necessary steps to identify the scope of the problem or the extent of the victims, or reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from recurring.
“SJSU’s actions gave the Athletic Trainer unfettered access to student-athletes and led students to feel that further reports of sexual harassment would be futile.”
The DOJ also found that San Jose State instructed Shaw in January 2020 not to treat athletes, but Shaw ignored those instructions. Shaw “engaged in unwelcome sexual touching” only a month later, and was temporarily suspended with pay later that year, after that current athlete came forward. The university had failed to enforce other similar directives in the years since the initial investigation, the DOJ found.
“The Department has reason to believe that in addition to students interviewed as part of our investigation, there are potentially many more student-victims who were subjected to sexual harassment, including potential victims identified, but not interviewed, during SJSU’s recent investigation,” the letter says.
In an FAQ document released on Tuesday, San Jose State did not address those specific shortcomings. It said the DOJ relied on many of the findings from the CSU System investigation, adding that it is conducting a separation investigation into its 2009-10 investigation and how the university handled subsequent concerns.
A 13-page summary released Tuesday outlined the details of a settlement between SJSU and the Justice Department stemming from a Title IX investigation the department launched in June 2020. In addition to financial compensation, the settlement also requires SJSU to contact all of the roughly 1,000 female athletes who competed for the school from August 2006 to August 2020, the time when Shaw was employed there, and provide them resources and the opportunity to file a complaint.
Not all of the women who have said Shaw abused them have accepted the settlement money. The DOJ offered $125,000 each to 23 women who Shaw inappropriately touched and participated in the investigation. San Jose State said 13 people have accepted the money so far, amounting to $1,625,000, which will be paid by the school.
According to the settlement, San Jose State must change its Title IX and athletic department policies, survey students in 2023-24 to assess its changes and meet reporting requirements to the DOJ, which will monitor the agreement through the 2024-25 academic year. The school will also hire additional Title IX staff, including two investigators and an administrative assistant, and improve its sexual assault prevention and education programs.
“We thank all the individuals who courageously came forward during the investigations,” San Jose State said in a statement. “To the affected student-athletes and their families, we deeply apologize… The health and safety of our campus community remains our top priority. We will continue to learn from the past so we never repeat it.”
The department did not name Shaw or any other parties, but the details are the same as those uncovered in San Jose State documents, a California State University System investigation and reporting by USA TODAY and other media.
The DOJ’s investigation also found San Jose State retaliated against two employees, including women’s swim coach Sage Hopkins, who first brought the allegations to light. In 2009, 17 athletes on his team complained about Shaw’s treatments, which prompted the university to conduct a human resources investigation.
San Jose State’s 2010 human resources investigation, however, cleared Shaw of wrongdoing. The school concluded then that Shaw’s touching constituted acceptable medical treatment. He remained in his position another 11 years.
Hopkins repeatedly raised concerns about Shaw’s conduct over the next decade. In 2019, he circulated a nearly 300-page document to officials at the school, Mountain West Conference and NCAA that detailed the swimmers’ allegations. In response, San Jose State President Mary Papazian reopened the investigation into Shaw in December 2019. The CSU System’s Title IX office hired an outside law firm to conduct the investigation.
During the reopened investigation, then-San Jose State athletic director Marie Tuite ordered a deputy athletic director to discipline Hopkins by issuing him a negative performance review. The deputy, Steve O’Brien, resisted the order, fearing it was retaliatory. Tuite fired O’Brien weeks later and went through with disciplining Hopkins.
Hopkins and O’Brien separately sued the university for retaliation in March. Hopkins remains in his position at San Jose State, and O’Brien now works as a law school dean at Santa Clara University. The DOJ confirmed the retaliatory discipline no longer appears in the employees’ personnel records.
Shaw announced his resignation from San Jose State in August 2020, just months before the conclusion of the reopened investigation, which substantiated 10 women’s allegations against him. That inquiry found Shaw’s treatments lacked medical basis, ignored proper protocols and violated the system’s sexual harassment policies.
Eight of the 10 women were among those who had originally reported Shaw in 2009. The other two were current SJSU athletes who said Shaw touched them inappropriately during medical treatments in 2018 and 2020.
Shaw has never been disciplined, arrested or charged. He did not cooperate with the state university system investigation. Through his attorney, Lori Costanzo, he previously denied any wrongdoing.
The fallout from the investigations has continued at San Jose State.
Following the reopened investigation into Shaw, Papazian, the SJSU president, announced in April several policy changes and resources for survivors. Among them was the adoption of a sports medicine chaperone policy, restructuring the Title IX office and providing it more resources and adding a full-time campus survivor advocate.
In May, Tuite was removed from her post as athletic director and assigned to a new role as director of external relations. She resigned from the university just three months later.
San Jose State said it is currently investigating what went wrong in its original human resources probe and in officials’ response thereafter.
Dharap represents 12 women, including 10 who would be covered by the DOJ settlement. In March, the women filed tort claim notices alleging that school employees knew of Shaw’s pattern of sexual abuse but did not protect them. The notice is required in California before a lawsuit is filed and gives a public agency 45 days to investigate and potentially settle ahead of a suit.
“The damages that have been suffered by our clients far exceed what they would have received under the resolution agreement, not just monetarily, but the opportunity for further institutional reform,” Dharap said.
“Our clients feel very strongly that there is still more work to do in getting San Jose to a place where our clients feel justice will have been served.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: San Jose State trainer abused women athletes: Department of Justice