Members of Northwestern University’s cheerleading team were forced to associate with drunk and belligerent fans without security, according to a lawsuit filed by a female former cheerleader against the university on Friday.
The 58-page complaint filed by former cheerleader Hayden Richardson in federal court and obtained by the Chicago Tribune alleged that members of the team were “presented as sex objects to titillate the men that funded the majority of Northwestern’s athletics programs.”
The suit says the team’s head coach, Pam Bonnevier, required them to “mingle” with the wealthy donors, who, Richardson said, touched her breasts and buttocks over her uniform and made “sexually charged comments”.
Richardson, who cheered for the school from 2018 to 2020, also said in the suit that Northwestern “forced its cheerleaders to behave in a degrading and demeaning manner intended to entice and captivate wealthy donors.”
Additionally, Richardson says men offered her alcoholic beverages even though she was underage in 2018-19, the time frame detailed in the suit.
According to the suit, which was filed in the Northern District of Illinois, Bonnevier stopped working for Northwestern in October, although the reasons for the departure are unclear. The university, which is located near Chicago in Illinois, confirmed to the Chicago Tribune that Bonnevier is no longer employed by Northwestern.
“This is not the highlight, by any means, of my life or time at Northwestern but it is certainly the most impactful,” the 22-year-old Richardson said.
“While there have been extreme detriments and times where I was very sad and hurt by the actions of the university, I am here, I am bringing the lawsuit forward and I’m going to do what is necessary to ensure other young women don’t experience the same thing that I did.”
When contacted by the paper, Northwestern said it could not comment on the suit, but “it is committed to fostering an environment in which all members of our community are safe, secure and free from discrimination or harassment of any form” and that “reports of discrimination or harassment are confidential in order to protect the individuals involved.”
Richardson had earlier in her Northwestern cheerleading career spoken glowingly of her involvement with the program before she left the school in 2020.
She alleges in the lawsuit that the inappropriate behaviour began in her first season of college.
The report states that the lawsuit names the university, Bonnevier and three other university employees as defendants and is seeking damages for emotional distress suffered by Richardson as well as lost career and learning opportunities.
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