Jury Awards Former MU Cheerleader $25,000 in Sexual Harassment Trial

By: Carrie Cline Email
By: Carrie Cline Email

UPDATE @ 6:30pm Friday
The jury has found that Marshall University negligently inflicted emotional distress upon Kacie Chambers and awarded her $25,000 in compensatory damages. Everything related to former cheerleading coach Donna Dunn found no fault on her part.

Chambers will not be rewarded any punitive damages.

The jury deliberated about three and a half hours before reaching the verdict. The emotional distress was the only issue out of 10 questions that the jury ruled in favor of Chambers. The jury found Marshall University did not engage in or allow any sexual harassment, outrageous conduct, assault or battery. The jury also found no discrimination against Chambers based on her gender.

Chambers cheered briefly at Marshall in 2005. During that time, she says the vulgar language and raunchy behavior was so severe that she felt forced to quit.

Attorneys for both sides said it was an issue of credibility, and the stories are dramatically different.

Chambers said she was sexually harassed, and the coaches witnessed and condoned it. Dunn said she never witnessed any such thing and would have dismissed anyone if she had.

Earlier Friday during closing arguments, defense attorney Ed Kowal said it was all about the money, and that's what Chambers was after. He said she quit the team because she was burned out and wanted to do other things.

But, instead of disappoint her parents -- who spent years of time and thousands of dollars investing in her 14-year cheerleading career -- she made up these allegations as an excuse, according to the defense.

Chambers' family said there's no way she would have gone through everything to cover up something. Her attorney says it was Chambers' lifelong dream to be a Marshall cheerleader. She also said Dunn was negligent, the harassment was overwhelming and that Chambers deserved to be compensated for the years of anguish she's suffered as a result of it all.

Late Friday, Chambers posted the following as her Facebook status: "It was a moral victory. I beat Marshall University in Cabell County. This case was never about money. It was about these incidents never happening to anyone else ever again. I am just happy that THE TRUTH and my story is finally out. As for Ms. Dunn, she will get her punishment on judgement day. I plan on writing a book about my experiences. Be looking for it in coming years!!"

UPDATE: Friday 3:45 p.m. (Day 4)
The jury now has the case in the sexual harassment trial involving a former Marshall University cheerleader and the school.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.

UPDATE: Thursday (Day 3)
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Exposing private parts, vulgar name-calling and sexually explicit conversation. That was the center of discussion Thursday in day three of the trial involving a former Marshall University cheerleader and the school.

Star witnesses for both sides took the stand in what proved to be an emotional day. The cheerleader who initiated the lawsuit, Kacie Chambers, and the coach she's suing, Donna Dunn, both got their say in court Thursday.

Kacie testified that at least one male cheerleader exposed his private parts to her, pulled her sports bra down exposing her breasts and called her and other female cheerleaders vulgar and sexually explicit names. She said most of these things happened during practice in the presence of the coach, Donna Dunn, and says she did nothing about it. In her testimony, Dunn said none of those things happened and if they did, she never knew about it because Kacie never talked to her about any of the incidents.

Kacie's uncle said Kacie has suffered tremendously as a result of this ordeal and she’s not the only one these things happened to.

"Kacie was told that this type of abuse happens and it is normal. There are several cheerleaders who said these things happened to them, but they were scared to report it to the coach or come forward. To this day, cheerleaders have told Kacie that they would not come forward unless they were guaranteed they would be protected," said Peter Chambers, Kacie’s uncle.

Kacie's mother also testified, saying Kacie suffered physical illness as a result of the sexual harassment, including panic attacks and seizures.

Two former cheerleaders also testified -- Rick Edmonds, the male cheerleader Kacie accused of most of the harassment and Brittany Bailey McGee, who was the team captain. Both denied all of Kacie's allegations.

Rick did own up to using vulgar language toward the women on the team. He was dismissed from the team back in 2005 for those actions after an investigation by the school’s judicial panel.

Facebook also made a splash in the trial Thursday. Kacie testified that she used bad language at times. The defense was ready to pounce on that producing several pages from her Facebook account where she and her friends used some sexually explicit language. Kacie defended herself saying joking among friends is far different from this same language being used in a derogatory way in a professional setting where adults, in this case—coaches, are present.

The case is wrapping up and will now go to the jury.

UPDATE: Wednesday (Day 2)
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- It's David versus Goliath -- that's how the attorney for a former Marshall University cheerleader described a lawsuit against the school and cheerleading coach.

Kacie Chambers is suing them for discrimination, saying she was subjected to sexual harassment and abuse by male cheerleaders in 2005. She also said the coach knew about it and didn't stop it.

During the second day of the trial Wednesday, Chambers' attorney called several university officials to the stand -- from the dean of student affairs and a representative from judicial affairs to the associate director of athletics. The witnesses spoke of an investigation conducted into the environment of the cheer squad.

A judicial panel of students and faculty found two male cheerleaders guilty of sexual harassment and lewd behavior -- many of the claims made by Chambers. Those cheerleaders were dismissed from the squad.

That university panel also recommended an investigation into the overall environment of the squad. Steve Hensley, Marshall's dean of student affairs, and two other university officials interviewed all 25 cheerleaders on the team at the time. He said while there were repeated comments about the two male cheerleaders, there was little confirmation of Chambers' claims of an overriding hostile environment.

“I think it was bad behavior by two males," Hensley said. "You know how when you get boys and girls together in something, whether it be sports or a debate team, there are disagreements and things happen. But, I think these two gentlemen crossed the line."

Donna Dunn had coached the team for 20 years before she resigned this summer. Dunn is also a 4th grade teacher at Geneva Kent Elementary School in Huntington. She missed the first day of classes at Geneva Kent Wednesday because of the trial.

UPDATE: Tuesday (Day 1)
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Sexual harassment, groping, lewd name calling. Those are just a few the explicit accusations at the heart of a case involving a former Marshall University cheerleading and the university -- including the coach.

Lawyers presented their opening statements in Cabell County Court this morning, and we were there. This is a case of he said/she said, with numerous sex claims spread throughout.

The charges stem from 2005 when Kacie Chambers started cheerleading at Marshall University.

According to Chambers' attorney, Chambers lived for cheerleading. It was a longtime dream to be a cheerleader for Marshall, and she poured her heart and soul into that. Chambers worked so hard at it, she was even awarded a scholarship. However, the plaintiff says that dream quickly turned into a nightmare when male cheerleaders made offensive remarks to her and other female cheerleaders.

But, Chambers says those remarks turned into offensive gestures that included groping women's breasts and showing their own private parts. Finally, Chambers' attorney alleges that the cheerleading coach Donna Dunn was present when these things happened and did nothing about it. She eventually quit the squad.

The defense said Chambers was not committed to cheerleading and actually missed four out of five PR events the cheerleaders were required to attend. Attorneys for Marshall University and Dunn say Chambers was disciplined for those misses. However, Chambers alleges that she intentionally skipped those events because the women were asked to act provocatively.

Bob Marcum, who was athletic director at the time, testified. He said an investigation was launched, and two male cheerleaders were dismissed for lewd behavior. However, he said any questionable acts that happened took place in open gym where coaches generally weren't present and wouldn't have observed or condoned such behavior.

However, when asked, Marcum said he did not know for sure whether Dunn was present or not.

Judge David Pancake expects the trial to last through Friday.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – A civil trial is underway involving a former Marshall University cheerleader who claims she was subjected to a "pervasive environment of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination" while a member of the team.

The lawsuit was orginally filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court, but the case is being heard in Cabell County.

The cheerleader is known as "K.C." in the lawsuit. She is suing the former cheerleader coach, the Marshall Board of Governors, and the W.Va. Higher Education Policy Commission.

According to the lawsuit, the alleged incident happened after "K.C." was named a cheerleader for the 2005-06 school year.

Following opening statements Tuesday afternoon, former Marshall Athletic Director Bob Marcum took the stand as the first witness in the case.

WSAZ has a crew inside the courtroom. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for updated information.

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