US Appeals Court Says Jury Should Decide Ex-Player’s Lawsuit

By Dan Sewell | July 28, 2020

CINCINNATI — A federal appeals court has ruled that a jury should decide on a former university softball player’s charge that her coach violated her First Amendment rights after a sexual assault on campus in Ohio.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday overturned a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit, reinstating one of several legal claims the young woman made. The court agreed that Lauren Kesterson should be able to present her case that she was subjected to retaliation from her coach that violated her First Amendment rights.

Kesterson said she was sexually assaulted by the son of Coach Karen Linder when both students were freshmen at Kent State University in 2012. Kesterson told her coach at the end of the 2014 season. Kesterson said she didn’t want to seek charges and the coach advised her to not tell anyone else. There were no criminal charges in the case.

The Associated Press does not typically identify victims of sexual assault, but Kesterson is allowing her name to be used publicly. She said her playing time became limited and she was called out by her coach for being emotional.

Linder resigned as coach in 2015, just days after Kesterson filed a Title IX complaint with the university.

“Case law by 2014 had put beyond debate that a coach at a state university cannot retaliate against a student-athlete for speaking out by subjecting her to harassment and retaliation,” the Cincinnati-based federal panel’s ruling stated.

The judges declined to reinstate complaints that were dismissed against the university and an interim coach.

“Obviously, we’re pleased to see that the court agreed our client is entitled to a trial for First Amendment retaliation,” said Kesterson’s attorney, Ashlie Case Sletvold of Cleveland.

However, she said they will consider appealing the ruling against the other charges.

The Ohio Attorney General’s office, which had argued on behalf of Kent State University and its former coach, declined to comment Friday, citing pending litigation.

Judge Jane Stranch wrote a separate opinion agreeing with the First Amendment ruling but saying she thought the court should also have reinstated Title IX and equal protection violation claims.

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