Colorado State Student Files University Lawsuit

Colorado State Student Files University Lawsuit
Sports

Colorado State Student Files University Lawsuit

States Unwanted Sexual Contact at Football Games

A Colorado State student filed a Title IX lawsuit filed in federal court on Tuesday, indicating that the university and its leadership failed to protect her after she was subjected to unwanted sexual contact during multiple football games on campus.

Katelyn Schiller, a former server at CSU football games, said the school moved booster Michael Best to an upgraded suite and encouraged her employer to demote her after Best called her a “b—-,” grabbed her upper thigh and inappropriately touched her during three games.

Schiller also said Best’s friend, Scott Schell, had similar behavior, saying he grabbed the back of her neck and moved her around the suite and put his hands in her pockets in a sexual manner.

Schiller told ESPN that the incidents that unfolded during the 2019 college football season changed her life, leading to various stress-induced medical conditions and an elevated cautiousness around men.

Colorado State, Spectra (Schiller’s former employer), Best and Schell are all named as defendants in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

“It has affected me in every way,” Schiller told ESPN. “CSU, and all the parties involved, gaslighted me for an entire year. … I literally exhausted all other options. The reason I’m here, the reason I came forward is this is my last option. You don’t get to touch women like that.”

Added Birk Baumgartner, Schiller’s attorney who filed the lawsuit: “We gave [Colorado State] every possible chance before we filed this lawsuit.”

Schiller said she worked for Spectra, a food services contractor, during the 2019 season in a “loge box” that was reserved by Best and his wife, Susie Wargin, a prominent booster and a sideline reporter for the Denver Broncos radio team.

On Sept. 7, 2019, during a game against Western Illinois, an intoxicated Best engaged in inappropriate behavior toward Schiller, “including grabbing her by the extreme upper thigh immediately adjacent to her vagina, causing her bruises,” the lawsuit says.

Schiller said she told Spectra about Best’s actions, but nothing changed. She said she was again assigned to Best’s luxury suite during a game against Toledo on Sept. 21, 2019. Per the lawsuit, Best engaged in similar behavior, calling her and a coworker a “b—-” and “touching Plaintiff’s body in an aggressive and sexual manner close to her private parts.”

Schiller said she told Spectra, which didn’t take sufficient action against Best but notified Colorado State athletic director Joe Parker. After the second incident, Schiller said, Parker had a conversation with Best before Best asked to close out his tab and offered Schiller an additional cash tip along with a tip on his credit card.

On Oct. 5, 2019, per the lawsuit, her employer again assigned her to Best’s luxury suite against her wishes. That day, the lawsuit says, Schell, Best’s friend, put his hand on the back of Schiller’s neck and placed his hands in her pockets, “reaching his fingers into Plaintiff’s pubic area directly above her vagina.” Per the lawsuit, Best touched her inappropriately that day, too.

The lawsuit also says that Steve Cottingham, CSU’s deputy athletic director, “minimized” Schiller’s concerns in a meeting after the incidents. Schiller said one of her managers informed her that Best and Wargin were “important” boosters.

In one email to the school, according to the lawsuit, Wargin wrote that she “writes a lot of checks” to the university and said her husband was in “shambles,” adding that the couple felt “unfairly targeted.”

According to the lawsuit, Schiller said she resigned after she was told that she could continue to work for Spectra but would be demoted to a position in the “pantry,” following an alleged conversation between her manager and Cottingham. Schiller sent multiple emails reciting her account to CSU officials and eventually turned to local police.

In a memo detailing the decision against filing charges in the investigation on Feb. 28, 2020, Amanda Duhon, deputy district attorney, said “while we do find the victim credible and she was subjected to unwanted sexual contact, we do not believe the case can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt if the case was filed and proceeded to trial.”

Duhon, in the memo, also said that any video evidence from the luxury suites during those games had been deleted. Per emails obtained by Schiller’s attorney, CSU said it automatically deletes video after 14 days.

Investigators also noted that witnesses had not observed the behavior described by Schiller.

Best, through his attorney, denied the allegations.

“No sexual misconduct happened here,” Craig Silverman, Best’s attorney, told ESPN in a statement. “Plaintiff’s allegations don’t allege sexual assault or even unlawful sexual contact. The detective who investigated saw many problems with the plaintiff’s version of events. The media blitz from Ms. Schiller and her lawyer are an attempt to ruin the fine reputations of my clients while seeking financial gain from deep pocket entities. We expect our side, and truth and justice, to prevail.”

The university, in a statement, also challenged Schiller’s account.

“While CSU generally does not comment on pending litigation, some allegations against CSU regarding the university’s response to this matter are factually inaccurate,” the school’s statement said. “CSU took appropriate measures to protect the student before its formal investigation into her allegations even began. CSU’s first priority is the safety and well-being of our students.”

Spectra also released a statement about the lawsuit.

“It is Spectra’s policy not to comment on pending litigation or matters related to human resources,” the company’s statement said. “What I will say is that Spectra takes all situations related to our team members seriously, as we respect our employees and value them as the lifeblood of our operation.”

The lawsuit is the latest chapter in a chaotic year for Colorado State athletics.

Colorado State is currently going through an internal investigation prompted by allegations of racial abuse within the football program and a failure to adhere to coronavirus protocols throughout the athletic department. In conversations with ESPN, multiple sources described a toxic and unsafe environment in which student-athletes were discouraged from being tested for the coronavirus.

In August, president Joyce McConnell told ESPN that members of the athletic department could feel confident about coming forward with concerns and not enduring retaliation. Some sources within the athletic department told ESPN, however, that they questioned that edict after McConnell’s statements about the stability of the athletic department during a recent all-staff meeting.

“Joe [Parker] is a remarkable partner for me,” McConnell said during the meeting. “I’m really, really fortunate to have him as the athletic director. Steve Cottingham has been also incredibly helpful. … And I feel really supported by the athletic department and the professionals that are in place. I want to share that with you because during times of stress, there’s often questions about leadership, and I want you to know that you have really good leadership. I hope you don’t mind me saying all of this, Joe. I didn’t prepare you for, sort of, public acclaim. But you deserve it.”

Sources said some within the athletic department questioned the praise for Parker, who is attached to the school’s investigation as its top leader.

The school had not yet released the details of its investigation.

Schiller said she filed her lawsuit because she hopes other women won’t have to endure what she did.

“The only thing I can hope for is they’re going to listen, and they’re going to change, and this isn’t going to happen to someone else,” Schiller said.