A federal court jury voted unanimously on Wednesday to dismiss all claims in a lawsuit filed by ex-LSU athletics administrator Sharon Lewis accusing top officials of retaliating against her for reporting sexual misconduct.
After listening to six days of testimony, a panel of five men and three women – all white – deliberated for slightly less than three hours before delivering their verdict.
LSU attorneys would not comment following the verdict, however one of several attorneys for the university was overheard saying in the immediately after the jury was dismissed, “Frankly, I’m surprised.”
LSU did release a statement. It is as follows:
“We are pleased that after a full review of the evidence, the jury ruled in our favor. The simple truth is that Ms. Lewis was never retaliated or discriminated against. She was let go along with 41 other football staff members and coaches after a new head coach was hired.
As an institution, over the past three years we have built a robust and nationally recognized Title IX office with more than 12 experts who are committed to educating and protecting our entire LSU community while moving swiftly and holding any offenders fully accountable. This will continue to be a priority for us.” – LSU Communications Department
“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Larry English, the lead attorney for Lewis said.
“We think we put on our case. But we’re in a system where the jury makes their decision. We will go home and get some sleep. And, then we will look at our legal options and determine what we are going to do moving forward,” English said.
A federal appeal costs around $500 to file.
“We are in the United States of America, and the jury has spoken. But, also, in the United States of America that is not necessarily the last word on a case. Again, we’re disappointed. We think the evidence was compelling. We felt like we put on a great case. We feel like proved every element of our case.
When asked if he was surprised that the jury selected was all white, English pointed out he was an officer of the court and said, “You pick (from) the jury (pool). You get what you get, and it is what it is.”
Lewis also has pending claims still alive in state court that are on appeal and English said this federal case strengthens Lewis’ claims in that case.
“We have other claims that are yet alive in state court. We think this case has done a great job in helping us pull out a lot of the evidence. We feel very positive about our state case,” English said.
In her lawsuit, which was filed in April 2021, Lewis claimed LSU retaliated against her after reporting sexual misconduct complaints made by two female students against Les Miles when he was LSU’s head football coach.
Lewis claimed she was wrongfully terminated after enduring more than a decade of workplace hostility that began for her when filed those first complaints against Miles.
Lewis, a former All-SEC heptathlete who won national track championships while competing at LSU as a student, spent nearly 21 years working in the LSU football program under four different head coaches.
Former LSU and current Alabama head football coach Nick Saban hired Lewis as a recruiting coordinator in 2002 and she advanced in her career associate athletic director for football recruiting and alumni operations in August 2020.
Lewis, 56, alleged LSU’s board of supervisors allowed athletics department officials to retaliate against her for reporting Title IX violations and also for filing a 2021 complaint against the university with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She also claimed she was subjected to a hostile work environment as result of complaints.
Title IX is a federal law passed in 1972. It clearly prohibits sex-based discrimination at universities that receive federal funding and mandates most university employees to report those potential violations to an independent Title IX coordinator when they become aware of the issues while being protected from any type of retaliation.
LSU, in testimony during this trial, admitted on multiple occasions that Title IX reported to a fell under the supervision of the VP of Legal Affairs, LSU’s general counsel, Winston Decuir.
Lewis’ attorneys asked jurors in the federal case on Wednesday during closing arguments to award her more than $6.3 million in compensatory damages and another $300,000 for emotional damages.
In his closing statement, English reiterated the argument he used to open the trial.
English told the jury LSU athletics patterns and practices fostered a “culture of fear, retaliation and violence” that victimized women in the athletics department.
“The undisputed evidence in this case shows that when people were charged with protecting women in the athletics department, they instead engaged in a hustle to protect the football coaches and their seven-figure salaries to continue winning football games,” he said.
Phelps-Dunbar attorney Michael Victorian, who represents LSU, in his closing argument stated that Lewis was not preyed upon or subjected to a hostile workplace. Victorian reiterated Lewis was not discriminated against because of her gender, and he reminded the statutory period for any of the claims cut off in mid-2020.
Victorian told the jury Lewis’ claims – all of them – were “baseless allegations” about sexual misconduct and harassment during Les Miles’ coaching tenure dating back 10 years and therefore were not pertinent to the case. “Sharon Lewis and her attorneys are trying to get you to fall for an emotional trick. That’s why they’re trying to trigger your sympathy,” he said. “It’s an emotional sleight of hand, ladies and gentlemen.”