Jonathan Aguilar | The DePaulia
A lawsuit was filed against DePaul University on Thursday alleging that former DePaul softball coach Eugene Lenti was verbally and physically abusive to players and assistant coaches.
But the accusations went beyond that of one person’s actions. Jenny Conviser — a sports psychologist who counseled DePaul athletes prior to her allegedly wrongful termination and filed the suit — claimed that the university’s Title IX office violated reporting and investigating protocols required by law.
What is Title IX and what do we know about DePaul’s Title IX office?
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that was passed in 1972 as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. The law protects people from discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or athletics that receive federal funding.
DePaul’s Title IX office provides protection on sex and gender-based discrimination such as “sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, sexual violence and gender-based dating and domestic violence and stalking,” according to its website.
DePaul’s office is made up of a Title IX coordinator, who oversees investigations and functions of the office and investigators who evaluate complaints made to the office. The office recently added a case manager position.
The office’s accessibility and conduct were questioned last year when students suggested that their cases had been mishandled.
One student said she had been blamed for an on-campus sexual assault after using illicit drugs, and another claimed that a Title IX official told a class of freshmen that most sexual assault reports on campus are false.
Several students indicated their legal rights under Title IX were not laid out for them by the office.
DePaul did not have a Title IX office — now called the Office of Gender Equity — until 2015. The first coordinator to hold the role was Karen Tamburro, who held the position from 2015 to 2018. She is now the director of gender equity at Northwestern University.
After Tamburro left the university, she was replaced by Jessica Landis as the Title IX coordinator. Landis remained at the university from Sept. 2018 to May 2019. Then, Ann Skiffington took over the position, but her tenure only lasted from Sept. 2019 to Jan. 2020.
Now, Kathryn Statz, former associate athletics director at DePaul, holds the position. She previously held a position as a Title IX investigator in the office, as well.
What does the lawsuit allege about DePaul’s Title IX office and its handling of issues?
Conviser, who filed the lawsuit, claims that DePaul’s leadership and the Title IX office are “conflicted and terminally under the sway of its lucrative Athletics department, with an improper revolving door and/or dual-hatted relationship between and among it, the Title IX and General Counsel’s Offices.”
The suit also claims that the university acts in this manner to protect its brand.
Conviser claims that as a mandated reporter of Title IX issues, she shared details of Lenti’s alleged abuse — including calling female softball players “f—–g whores’ and punching their bodies — with the office, and the office did not conduct an independent investigation of his behavior. If true, this would be a violation of Title IX, which says that immediate action, independent of law enforcement, must be taken by universities upon receiving notice of sexual violence or harassment.
She named Statz and Sue Walsh, associate athletics director of sports medicine, as the people she reported to.
After the office failed to conduct an investigation, Conviser was told to meet with Lenti directly and to help set up workshops for the student-athletes and the coaches. Conviser said in the suit she thought that was not her responsibility, and that the Title IX office was not helpful in conducting the meetings.
Further, Conviser alleges that Jill Hollembeck, who was a deputy Title IX coordinator and senior associate athletics director, said that “improper conduct, including of sexual nature, ‘doesn’t happen here’ because, in her words, the school is located in a ‘big city with lots of other entertainment and diversions.’”
DePaul’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act report, which is accessible to all students and staff with a Campus Connect login, indicates that in that 2017, there were 60 reports of sexual violence, 22 reports of domestic violence 10 reports of dating violence and 13 reports of stalking made to the Title IX office. The number of confidential or anonymous reports, which are recorded separately, are unknown for this year due to a data error by the university.
The suit also accuses DePaul and its Title IX office of a cover-up of Lenti’s abuse.
The suit details a five-step plan the university allegedly enacted to sweep the abuse under the rug.
Let Lenti “slip out the back door” and retire with a good reputation and his pension likely intact. The suit alleges that this allowed Lenti to resurface and obtain a position at Auburn University. The suit states that there is no record of DePaul informing Auburn of the complaints against Lenti and the university did not properly report the incident to the U.S. Center for SafeSport as required.
Fire the rest of Lenti’s coaching staff, including the alleged victim of his physical abuse.
Terminate Conviser’s contract with the university, repudiate their contract with her company Ascend and stop referring patients to her.
Defame Conviser and damage her reputation by falsely reporting that she discouraged athletes in her care from reporting instances of abuse. Conviser also accuses the university of “gaslighting” her by accusing her of “getting her facts wrong.”
Protect the athletic department’s brand by covering up an “out-of-control coaching culture where star coaches abuse their power of trust over student-athletes and inflict harm on them, knowing that they will not be held accountable by the University.”
Conviser said she was further interrogated by Tamburro and accused of deterring students from reporting. Conviser thought Tamburro was protecting DePaul’s image.
Who are the key players in the lawsuit?
Conviser and Ascend Consultation in Health Care, LLC filed the lawsuit against DePaul on April 15, 2020.
Conviser alleged her contract with the university to counsel DePaul athletes was terminated two years ago after telling athletic department officials her concerns regarding Lenti’s behavior.
Lenti was the longtime coach of the women’s softball team and is the brother of athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto.
Lenti abruptly retired in 2018 following over 30 years at DePaul. He now serves as an assistant coach at Auburn University.
Tamburro served as the Title IX coordinator at the time of the investigation. She left the position in 2018 and now serves as the director of equal opportunity and access for Northwestern University’s Office of Equity.
Walsh is the associate athletics director of sports medicine and was informed by Conviser of the allegations against Lenti.
Statz served as the associate athletic director at the time of the investigation, where she also was informed by Conviser of the allegations against Lenti. She served as an investigator in the Title IX office as an investigator for one year, before being promoted to Title IX Coordinator in 2020.