Miltenberg, Gorycki: “Northwestern Loses Bid To Trim Cheerleader Exploitation Suit,” Law360


An Illinois federal judge won’t let Northwestern University escape the forced labor and sex trafficking claims lodged by a former cheerleader, ruling that she successfully pled that she was required to act in a sexual way to secure donations and that she would have suffered financial harm if she had refused to participate. Former Northwestern cheerleader and scholarship student Hayden Richardson has accused the head coach and other university officials in a federal lawsuit of pushing her and her fellow squad members into situations in which they were expected to act as “temptresses and courtesans,” exposing them to sexual assault and harassment from fans, alumni and donors. The suit was first filed in January 2021. That June, the university filed a motion to dismiss Richardson’s claims of
forced-labor trafficking, forced labor and sex trafficking that she lodged under the Trafficking
Victims Protection Act. However, on Thursday that request was denied by U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang. Judge Chang said in his order that under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, serious harm can be physical, psychological, financial or reputational, and Richardson has shown the threat of
serious harm existed. According to the lawsuit, Richardson had to sign a “Spirit Squad” contract
that outlined her duties before being allowed to join the team. As a scholarship recipient,
Richardson would be required to repay the university if she quit or was asked to leave the team.
“Under the terms of the contracts, if Richardson had left the team, then she would have owed
Northwestern over $10,000, comprising a minimum of $9,541 to pay back the cheerleading
scholarships, plus all lodging, food, equipment-rental and training expenses,” Judge Chang said. “This allegation of a mandatory financial burden adequately supports the forced labor and forced-
labor trafficking claims as a ‘threat of serious harm’ under the act.” Also remaining on the table are claims the university violated Title IX and inflicted emotional harm. Richardson complained to university officials, but they did nothing to stop the practice, the lawsuit alleges. Their failure to act violated anti-discrimination provisions of Title IX, Richardson says in her suit. Judge Chang did, however, dismiss Richardson’s claims of breach of contract and promissory estoppel, but gave her a chance to refile an amended complaint to fix her deficiencies, according to Thursday’s order … Andrew T. Miltenberg of Nesenoff & Miltenberg, an attorney for Richardson, told Law360 on Friday, “We are extremely satisfied” with the court’s opinion and order and “are looking forward to the exhaustive pursuit of Ms. Richardson’s claims so that she may have her day in court.” “As Ms. Richardson has affirmed since the day that we filed her lawsuit, and as will be proven as the case proceeds through discovery, Northwestern and its administrators pursued financial gain and personal advancement by knowingly and repeatedly exposing Ms. Richardson, and her fellow, female cheerleaders, to repeated acts of sexual assault and sexual harassment at the hands of donors and alumni,” Miltenberg said. “This happened over and over again. Ms. Richardson’s objections and warnings were countered with attacks on her credibility as the abuse, harassment and assaults continued.”

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