Yann Hufnagel was fired less than a month ago from his job as an assistant basketball coach at Cal for violating the school’s sexual harassment policy, yet he’s already landed on his feet with a similar job at the University of Nevada. Hufnagel is a brilliant recruiter, so he was always going to get another job, but given the way he allegedly abused his power as a coach, it’s surprising to see him surface so quickly.
Hufnagel was accused of sexually harassing a reporter from November 2014 through May 2015, and of feeding her bad information in retaliation for refusing his sexual advances. The reporter says she was fired for misreporting based on that information. Last week, members of Nevada’s campus community, including a political science professor, raised objections at an hourlong forum with the athletic director and university officials. In response, Nevada president Marc Johnson sent out an email explaining that he and other officials had reviewed previously unavailable documents and concluded that the school was “comfortable moving forward with the hire”:
During this week’s “Campus Conversations,” several individuals expressed their concern regarding a recent hiring made by the men’s basketball program, and how it related to the larger question of campus safety, sexual misconduct and sexual harassment. The questions that were raised were extremely thoughtful, and I deeply appreciate the candor and concern that was expressed. As an institution of higher learning, we must constantly ask these types of questions of ourselves if we are to maintain a safe and welcoming environment. After announcing the selection, but before finalizing the contract for Yann Hufnagel, we reviewed additional materials that did not appear to have been previously reviewed and considered, and, are sufficiently comfortable moving forward with the hire. Mr. Hufnagel agreed to make this additional information available to others.
Hufnagel has been adamant that he was innocent and would be exonerated once he got to tell his side of the story, and now his version of events is out there. Nevada reviewed the materials he supplied and ruled that they were confidential, but released them in response to our open records request after Hufnagel allowed it. The documents, in other words, were made public because Hufnagel wanted them to be. He clearly believes that his side of things—which is what documents, text messages, videos, and Google Maps data present—proves his innocence and shows that he was in the right.
Where the materials released by the University of California only displayed the sexually suggestive texts that Hufnagel sent to the reporter, his trove of documents presents a broader cross-section of the interactions. The reporter joked about him taking her out for an expensive dinner, asked him about other girls, and brought up Tinder in their conversations. His argument is that she was leading him on—that their flirtatious relationship was consensual and based on mutual affection—and that she only accused him of harassment after he cut her off professionally on May 22. He says that her story about him threateningly asking her to come up to his apartment was mischaracterized, and that he never singled her out as a reporter to whom to present false information.
The reporter alleges that he toyed with her reliance on him as a source and tried to exploit her dependence. She says that Hufnagel tried to pressure her into a three-way (which he admits) and that once it became clear that she wouldn’t give into his advances, he responded by feeding her false scoops.
Hufnagel attempts to discredit the reporter’s accusations by showing that she maintained a friendly relationship with him well after the alleged harassment. The counterargument is that this is evidence of nothing more than her having attempted to maintain a vital professional relationship.
Between these two arguments, one is more nuanced and plausible, and Hufnagel’s release does not make the case he thinks it does.
“Polite and no big deal”
One of the arguments Hufnagel and his lawyers make is purely technical. They say that the University of California’s sexual harassment policy at the time of the alleged harassment shouldn’t cover Hufnagel’s alleged actions because the reporter was not a student or a member of the campus community.
The most glaring incident of the “weekly or bi-weekly” instances of harassment that the claimant alleges occurred on Jan. 24, 2015. She says she drove him home after the two went to a bar at around 2 a.m. and pulled into the garage of his apartment building to let him out. He closed the door behind them and insisted she come up to his apartment to have sex; she declined. Both parties agree on this version of events. She says that he was insistent, and attempted to control her ability to leave by closing the garage door.
Hufnagel doesn’t deny that he propositioned the reporter. His legal team uses a series of run-arounds to obfuscate what happened. First, they provide a series of text messages that purport to show that going to Jupiter, a bar in downtown Berkeley, was the claimant’s idea. (The records they give don’t match up with the transcript of months of text message correspondence.) Then they insist that the harassment couldn’t have been that serious if the university didn’t immediately terminate Hufnagel for it.
This is, at best, a confusing logical trick that’s all the more suspicious given that they spend a large part of the memo blasting the school for moving forward too quickly with their investigation.
Then, Hufnagel’s response gets technical. It insists that Hufnagel couldn’t have had control over the claimant’s ability to leave the garage since the door would have opened automatically when approached by a car. She says she entered the garage in the first place because she was dropping him off on a busy street, which Hufnagel disputes with a series of Google Maps screenshots showing an area where she could have pulled over. He says that she wanted to go up to his apartment when she pulled into the garage, but decided against it as soon as she entered.
Hufnagel’s legal team’s explanation for the claimant’s behavior on the night of Jan. 24 relies on a series of improbably interlocking decisions. She had to know how exactly his specific garage door mechanism worked; she had to have invited herself to to his apartment, then changed her mind at the exact moment she drove into the garage; and she had to report it immediately and force the school to take action, even as she continued to flirt with him. It’s a very complicated explanation, as opposed to her much simpler one: she drove him home, he propositioned her, and she refused.
“It’s only real when you’re in the apartment with me”
As Hufnagel’s team writes, “Complainant continued to reach out to Mr. Hufnagel by text after their night at the brewpub, they continued their flirtation, and Mr. Hufnagel continued to help her with her job.” The record shows, however, that they didn’t text for almost a month after the incident (which was during the heart of college basketball season) and that the conversation was strictly professional.
Two months after the garage incident, the reporter was trying to pin the coach down for an interview. He continuously insisted that they have three-way sex with one of his friends first.
Hufnagel and his lawyers try to negate the impact of this exchange by pointing out that she asked him if he was on Tinder. By their logic, her making a joke about Tinder was equal to him trying to coerce her into a three-way before he granted her an interview.
“What the fuck were you thinking?”
The most serious professional accusation the reporter makes is that Hufnagel deliberately fed her a bad scoop in retaliation for turning him down. This happened four days after the final text about a threesome. Hufnagel denied the allegation on the grounds that he gave out the same fake information to other reporters and that subterfuge was part of his job, but again, the record doesn’t back up his claim.
The texts indicate that the bad scoop was about a big-time recruit and whether or not he was seriously considering Cal. Here are the messages, in which it appears Hufnagel told her the recruit had visited campus when he hadn’t:
And here is what he told a male reporter, which he says shows that his treatment of the claimant wasn’t exclusive. However, the texts to the other reporter came more than a month later, and show Hufnagel dodging the question rather than giving outright incorrect information.
The complainant then carried on her conversations with Hufnagel as normal, while he continued acting as her source. He promised her an exclusive, and went out of his way to compliment her work ethic.
On May 22, something happened that swiftly ended their relationship and caused the reporter to go to the university with her allegations. After she published a report that enraged Hufnagel, he angrily called her and yelled “What the fuck were you thinking?”, per the original Cal investigation.
Hufnagel’s memo says that she attributed a piece of information to “sources close to Cal staff” rather than “a source.” He immediately cut her off over the attribution.
Much of Hufnagel’s argument hinges on whether or not he impeded her from doing her job, and he and his lawyers get into how much, as a source, he did or didn’t owe the reporter.
To be clear, nobody who leaks a piece of information owes the reporter anything; it’s up to the reporter to fact check what they get. Still, while Hufnagel is technically correct, once you’ve built up a rapport with a source and they’ve given you plenty of solid information, it’s reasonable to assume that what they give you in the future is good enough to go on. That the onus was on the reporter to write verifiably true things, doesn’t mean that Hufnagel’s turn wasn’t a deliberate betrayal of her trust.
Whether or not it was motivated by her refusal to sleep with him isn’t borne out by the records; all the direct evidence we have on that specific question amounts to two contradictory testimonies.
Given the power dynamic in play here, though—a young reporter working a source who tried to have sex with her in exchange for information—her potentially flirtatious texts and friendly manner shouldn’t be taken as evidence that her claims were false. (All her verified claims, remember, were cited by Cal in its decision to fire Hufnagel under its sexual harassment policies, and Hufnagel admitted to the pertinent allegations.) It was in her best interest to maintain a good working relationship with Hufnagel; that she tried to do so isn’t evidence he did nothing wrong. At best, Hufnagel’s defense says nothing. At worst, it attempts to blame the alleged victim for inviting her own harassment.
Hufnagel’s memo to Cal:
Hufnagel’s supplemental submission:
The full text message archive between Hufnagel and the reporter: