Fired SJSU Employee Sues School Alleging Retaliation for Reporting Sexual Misconduct

NBC Bay Area

The former deputy athletic director at San Jose State University has sued the school alleging top university officials, including the president and athletic director, covered up rampant sexual misconduct and retaliated against employees who reported it.

Steve O’Brien, the former second in command of SJSU's Athletics Department, alleges in the 30-page complaint he was fired for preserving the integrity of an investigation into the alleged sexual assault by Scott Shaw, SJSU’s director of Sports Medicine and head athletic trainer.

The lawsuit was filed late Monday in Santa Clara County Superior Court, according to O'Brien's attorneys.

In 2009, Shaw had been accused of sexually fondling more than a dozen female athletes, and the university investigated and quietly cleared him of all wrongdoing, the suit says. But about eight years later, those athletes and others reported to Sage Hopkins, SJSU’s women’s swimming and diving coach, that Shaw’s abuse was ongoing and that the university’s investigation was faulty.

Hopkins composed a lengthy dossier with his own findings, calling out Athletic Director Marie Tuite’s role in covering up Shaw’s abuse, and SJSU launched a new investigation in 2020, the suit says.

O’Brien alleges that during the new investigation, Tuite directed him to discipline Hopkins without legitimate cause. O’Brien believed the directive was retaliatory against Hopkins and could compromise the investigation, including Tuite’s role in it. O’Brien brought his concerns to SJSU, and nothing was done, the suit says.

Ultimately, the university fired Hopkins and O'Brien.

"This lawsuit alleges a clear case of retaliation. O’Brien was punished for doing the right thing. He stood up for those trying to protect mistreated female student-athletes and it cost him his job," said Tamarah Prevost, partner with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy of Burlingame. "California law explicitly protects employees engaged in the whistleblowing conduct that Steve O’Brien was courageous enough to undertake. The days of covering up misconduct by universities should be a relic of the past, not the current standard."

O'Brien was hired to be deputy athletic director at SJSU in 2017, reporting to Tuite, and received nothing but exceptional ratings on performance reviews up until his termination in March 2020, according to the suit.

The lawsuit lists as defendants the California State University Board of Trustees, San Jose State University and Tuite.

A university spokesperson on Wednesday told Bay City News: "San Jose State University is currently reviewing the lawsuit filing, which was received today."

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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