A former Kent State softball player is suing the university and its former softball coach, Karen Linder, accusing Linder of pressuring the player to cover up her rape allegation against the coach’s son. When Lauren Kesterson did report the rape, Linder resigned but used her influence among former and current softball players to make Kesterson’s life “so miserable she had no choice but to stop playing softball,” according to the complaint.
The lawsuit was filed today in federal court in Ohio. It claims sex discrimination, including retaliation, against Kent State under Title IX, denial of equal protection, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Karen Linder. Kesterson filed the lawsuit under her name and, through her lawyer, agreed to have her name published.
Here is what she said happened, as described in her complaint.
In her lawsuit, Kesterson says she and her twin sister committed to Kent State softball in April 2011. The rape happened in December, 2012. Linder’s son, Tucker, was a baseball player at Kent State. He asked Kesterson if she wanted to hang out and she agreed. They ended up at her dorm room. He was drunk, she was not. At first, they “engaged in minor intimacies” but when she told him to stop, he didn’t, according to the lawsuit. She told him “at least ten times” that she did not want to have sex, but he ignored this and “pressed himself on top of her,” the lawsuit said, and raped her.
Kesterson says her in lawsuit that she felt sad and ashamed about her rape and tried to move past it on her own. But her grades slipped. Even playing softball hurt because the team shared facilities with the baseball team, which included Tucker. In September 2013, Keterson was at a party with her boyfriend when a drunk Tucker Linder screamed at her boyfriend, “Just so you know: I fucked your girl,” the lawsuit says. During the spring of 2014, her suffering was so apparent that coach Linder asked Kesterson’s twin sister and another teammate if she had been sexually assaulted.
The teammate and Ms. Kesterson’s sister both told Coach Linder that she would have to ask Ms. Kesterson for an answer to that question.
That happened during a meeting with coach Linder in mid-May of 2014. Linder asked Kesterson if she had been sexually assaulted. She said yes. Coach Linder asked “It wasn’t my son, was it?” Kesterson responded, “What if it was?” Here’s how the lawsuit describes the rest of the conversation (emphasis mine):
When Ms. Kesterson acknowledged that Tucker Linder was the rapist, Coach Linder started crying and apologized to Ms. Kesterson.
After Ms. Kesterson lodged her Title IX complaint with Coach Linder, the coach suggested that perhaps Mr. Linder did not know that he had raped Ms. Kesterson.
After Ms. Kesterson lodged her Title IX complaint with Coach Linder, the coach repeatedly asked Ms. Kesterson if she would like to talk to Mr. Linder about the situation. Ms. Kesterson got the impression that Coach Linder was trying to convince Ms. Kesterson to meet with Mr. Linder to resolve the issue between them. Ms. Kesterson did not want to meet with Mr. Linder and declined.
After Ms. Kesterson lodged her Title IX complaint with Coach Linder, the coach asked Ms. Kesterson if she wanted to press criminal charges against Mr. Linder. Ms. Kesterson—fearful of what pressing charges against her coach’s son would mean for her opportunity to play softball—said that she did not.
Coach Linder asked Ms. Kesterson who else knew about the rape. Ms. Kesterson told Coach Linder that Ms. Kesterson’s parents, her sister, and another teammate knew. Coach Linder said, “I would appreciate if you would not tell anybody else and that we keep this between the people that know.”
Coach Linder called Kesterson’s mother and apologized. Her son apologized to Kesterson via text, saying “I want to help you overcome what you’re going through so you can get back to enjoying softball and enjoying life.” Coach Linder said her son wouldn’t be returning to Kent State because he had been struggling. But at no point did the coach report the sexual assault allegation to the Title IX coordinator. She never told Kesterson about her rights or any how to access services for help.
Kesterson still struggled. She even went to team required events hosted at the Linder home, which included a “life-sized Fathead wall decal of her rapist,” the lawsuit says. When Kesterson became emotional during practice one day, coach Linder told her, “I hope you understand that you can’t act like that in a practice or game setting.”
After her junior year, in 2015, Kesterson went home and was researching Title IX when she realized what coach Linder was supposed to have done. She then started another Title IX complaint, against her coach. But athletic director Joel Nielsen intervened and said they would do a “surprise interview” of coach Linder instead. On Aug. 26, Nielsen interviewed Linder. She resigned two days later.
Linder told the local paper she was leaving because it had become a “world of entitlement.” Her replacement warned that “anyone who said anything bad about Coach Linder would be off the team.”
Coach Linder also spread her message to Kent State alumni, prompting them to take to social media to condemn the “selfish” student-athlete and her parents who complained about Coach Linder. Coach Linder fostered and encouraged this narrative amongst her former players and participated in the creation of hostility against Ms. Kesterson for lodging her Title IX complaint against Coach Linder. That hostility infected the softball community including Ms. Kesterson’s teammates who did not know what had really happened.
Eventually, Kesterson and her sister left the team. Lauren Kesterson currently is a senior at Kent State.
Kent State issued a statement saying: “When we are formally served with the complaint we will answer accordingly.”
The full complaint is below.
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