Three former women’s cross-country, track and field athletes at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the college and their former head coach, director of athletics and a former teammate, alleging that the team had a culture of discrimination against female and lesbian athletes and that the college did not respond adequately when the athletes were sexually assaulted during or after team parties.
According to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, coach Nate Huckle treated female athletes “inferior to their male counterparts” and singled out lesbian members of the team and “harassed, mocked and embarrassed” them. Two of the former athletes who are part of the lawsuit were in a same-sex relationship at the time, and Huckle allegedly disapproved.
The complainants, who are unnamed in court documents, all said they were sexually assaulted by the same male teammate in 2017 and 2018. They allege that there was a practice during off-campus team parties of male athletes giving alcohol and marijuana to younger female athletes “in the hope of taking advantage of them,” according to the lawsuit. Two of the athletes said they reported the sexual assaults to Huckle, but he continued to pressure them to attend the parties.
The third woman, who was a first-year student and 17 years old at the time, was later raped by the male teammate. She transferred to another college due to the trauma it caused her, the lawsuit states. The women are seeking monetary damages for their emotional distress, cost of mental health therapy and cost of attendance at Canisius, among other costs.
The lawsuit states that the college conducted an investigation of the incidents through its office for Title IX, the law that prohibits sex discrimination at federally funded institutions, and suspended the male athlete from the team, but the investigation did not address complaints about Huckle’s alleged discriminatory actions.
A spokesperson for Canisius said in a statement that college officials responded “swiftly and effectively to the claims of sexual assault and/or discrimination at issue in this action” and said the lawsuit “is simply not accurate.” The discrimination allegations against Huckle were “found to be completely lacking in merit,” the statement said.
“Canisius prides itself on its commitment to its Catholic, Jesuit identity and strives to reflect that in all of its policies and practices,” the statement said. “To the extent that this complaint alleges conduct to the contrary … the college denies those allegations and believes the facts will prove out the college’s position.”