Miltenberg: “Cheerleader Sues Northwestern University, Says She Was Groped and Harassed by Drunken Fans and That Officials Tried to ‘Cover Up’ Her Complaints, Lawsuit Alleges,” Chicago Tribune


When Hayden Richardson transferred to Northwestern University for her sophomore year, she hoped that joining the cheerleading team would provide a sense of community and excitement at an unfamiliar school. The team’s website and social media pages depicted smiling women, clad in purple and sparkly apparel, tumbling on the sidelines of Big 10 football games. Described as a “noncompetitive cheer team,” the program also offered scholarships and covered all travel, equipment and training expenses. But early in her first season, the “dark side” of the program emerged, according to a federal lawsuit Richardson filed Friday against Northwestern. In the 58-page complaint, Richardson details repeated instances where she said she was groped by drunken fans and alumni during university-sanctioned events, alleging the cheer team’s head coach required female members to “mingle” with powerful donors for the school’s financial gain. “It became clear to (Richardson) that the cheerleaders were being presented as sex objects to titillate the men that funded the majority of Northwestern’s athletics programs,” the lawsuit says. “After all, the happier these men were, the more money the university would receive from them.” … In addition to the pregame responsibilities, female cheerleaders were also required to attend alumni events when directed by Bonnevier, the lawsuit alleges. For these events, the lawsuit says, cheerleaders “had to be especially attractive” and were “forced to dress in their tiny cheerleading uniforms to parade around men old enough to be their fathers and even grandfathers.” Though Richardson felt exploited by the team requirements, she also feared the financial consequences of quitting. She earned almost $10,000 in scholarships through the team that could be lost, according to the lawsuit. A team contract states that cheerleaders who quit or are dismissed must pay back all expenses incurred from travel, equipment and practice, according to a copy provided by Richardson’s attorney. The contract said that’s “approximately $2,000 to $4,000.” But by the end of her first season with the team, Richardson wanted to seek outside help. Though she had relayed concerns to Bonnevier, the coach barely responded, the lawsuit says. So in early January 2019, Richardson disclosed the issues to the team doctor, the lawsuit says. A few days later, she met with the associate athletic director for marketing. During their first meeting, Richardson was told “to get other testimonials and evidence together to support her allegations before her concerns would even be acknowledged,” the lawsuit says. Later in January 2019, Richardson provided anonymous “letters and testimonials” from teammates, but the marketing director and the deputy director of athletics, also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, accused Richardson of fabricating the documents, according to the lawsuit, which was filed by New York attorney Andrew Miltenberg, who specializes in Title IX.