Gymnastics coach out at U of M after sexual harassment investigations

  • Article by: JASON GONZALEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2014 - 12:05 AM

Report cited claims of sexual harassment, retaliation.

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Meg Stephenson, right, during a 2013 workout.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, DML - Star Tribune

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The highly successful coach of the University of Minnesota women’s gymnastics team resigned Thursday after a year of claims of sexual harassment and retaliation within the team.

The school determined that Meg Stephenson, one-time national coach of the year, retaliated against someone at the university after a student-athlete claimed she was sexually harassed by Stephenson’s husband, volunteer assistant coach Jim Stephenson.

The university accepted Meg Stephenson’s “mutually agreed-upon” resignation Thursday, more than a month after the school reprimanded her for violating university anti-retaliation policy.

While the university investigations are now closed, the federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR) continues to investigate a claim from a student-athlete that “the volunteer assistance coach subjected Student A to sexual harassment, and the University had notice of the sexual harassment” which took place in the fall of 2013, according to the OCR’s report.

Jim Stephenson led the program as head coach and co-head coach with his wife for 17 years before moving into a volunteer role in 2010. The university said he hasn’t been with the team since last fall.

An April 24 OCR letter to university President Eric Kaler notified the school of the alleged sexual harassment on the team, and that the university knew of the complaint “and failed to take effective steps to end the harassment and remedy its effects.”

A June 4 letter to Meg Stephenson from the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action notified her of the claim of “expressing overt hostility” toward someone at the university after the sexual harassment claim was made.

The heavily redacted letter contains several references to a person fearing for the safety of their job, hinting at possible retaliation.

“After careful consideration, this department felt the need for a change to women’s gymnastics for the good of the students and the program,” athletic director Norwood Teague said in a statement. “In the past year, the university conducted two investigations into student and employee complaints about the program. Following those investigations, the athletics department took prompt and appropriate action to address the concerns. Now that those internal investigations are closed and completed, we are looking to the future of the program.”

Meg Stephenson did not respond to a request for comment.

Under her guidance, the Gophers reached the NCAA Regional every year since 1997 and finished in the Top 10 at the NCAA Championships three times. Stephenson was the 2013 NCAA Regional, National and Big Ten Coach of the Year. After winning back-to-back Big Ten championships, she was named the conference’s 2014 Coach of the Year.

Stephenson was in the last year of her contract that paid $86,061 annually. Based upon terms written in the contract, she will be compensated through its completion date, April 30, 2015.

The team’s assistant coaches — Jenny Hansen, associate head coach, and Louie Johnson — will continue with their assignments during the search for a new coach.

The OCR takes complaints from anyone who believes that an educational institution that receives federal financial assistance has discriminated against someone on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age.

One former gymnast was surprised to learn about the abrupt departure of her former coaches. Roseville native Lucy Ennis said she always felt safe and respected around the duo and specifically Jim Stephenson, who was still co-head coach during her 2009 freshman season.

The 2012 graduate heard rumors of change among the team’s chemistry since Jim Stephenson stepped down as co-coach in 2010 for health reasons.

Ennis said she never felt uncomfortable around Jim Stephenson. “They were always like my second parents. They care for all of us first and foremost as human beings and students and as athletes. … I always was treated very appropriately and respected in a very appropriate way.”



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