Northwestern has faced numerous lawsuits in the past few years, ranging from the cheer team to its retirement plan — the latter of which will be heard in front of the Supreme Court next month.
The University was also recently involved in a suit alleging unfair tuition during the pandemic, a lawsuit dealing with a data breach by Northwestern Medicine and Elekta, and another alleging improper storage of student biometric data collected through test proctoring software.
While some suits are still ongoing, others have been dismissed. These lawsuits were filed between 2016 and 2021.
Sexual harassment on the cheer team
Earlier this year, former NU cheerleader Hayden Richardson (Weinberg ‘21) filed a lawsuit against the University, alleging fans and alumni sexually harassed cheerleaders. She also alleged the athletic department did not respond appropriately, violating Title IX regulations.
Richardson is suing for emotional damages as well as lost academic and career opportunities.
In her complaint, she stated then-coach Pamela Bonnevier forced her and other cheerleaders to entertain fans at tailgates and alumni events, despite frequent groping and inappropriate comments. Richardson said these individuals were older men who were often intoxicated and potential donors.
The cheerleaders were forced to mingle alone and without supervision, Richardson alleged in her complaint. Richardson said Bonnevier was unresponsive when she asked for help and support. Following an internal investigation last year, Bonnevier was fired in November 2020.
The lawsuit alleges the University was slow to investigate reports of sexual harassment. Over a year after Richardson first came forward, the athletic department began an official investigation into the matter. Richardson said she had still not seen the findings of the report when she filed the lawsuit.
Defendants include NU, Bonnevier, Mike Polisky, Heather Van Hoegarden Obering, and Amanda DaSilva. Obering is the associate athletic director for marketing, and DaSilva is the associate director of equity and Title IX compliance.
Polisky was promoted to athletic director in May but resigned just nine days later amid significant public outcry. Athletic Director Derrick Gragg replaced him in the role.
The University filed a motion to dismiss Richardson’s allegations in May.