By Tori Harrison, of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP
On July 25, 2019, former Auburn softball player, Alexa Nemeth, sued Auburn University, along with Auburn Head Softball Coach, Clint Myers, Auburn Assistant Softball Coach, Corey Myers, and Former Auburn Presidents, Jay Gogue and Steven Leath in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Eastern Division, for sexual discrimination and retaliation under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Nemeth’s claims arise from actions that took place within the Auburn softball program during the 2016-2017 school year.
Some of the claims detailed in Nemeth’s complaint first hit the public spotlight in 2017 when the Auburn softball team refused to board the team bus in protest of an inappropriate relationship between former assistant coach Corey Myers (son of head coach Clint Myers) and one of their teammates. Nemeth’s complaint indicates that these public events were merely a snapshot of a year-long struggle during her freshman season with Auburn’s softball program. In her complaint, Nemeth chronicles a toxic culture of “exploitation and manipulation” that “lacked institutional control,” and “teammates felt pressured to engage in inappropriate and/or sexual relationships with Corey [Myers] to receive better treatment in practice and at games.”
According to the complaint, Corey Myers made multiple inappropriate comments and advances towards Nemeth’s teammates. At one point, the Auburn softball players presented evidence in the form of inappropriate text messages exchanged between Corey Myers and their teammate to the Auburn Athletics Administrator, Meredith Jenkins. Nemeth’s complaint alleges that Ms. Jenkins admonished the players for accessing their teammate’s text messages and ordered them to delete the inappropriate messages. Nevertheless, Athletics Director Jay Jacobs ultimately admitted to the press that the University first received notification of Myers’s inappropriate relationship with a player during the fall of 2016, and, after an investigation, Auburn’s Title IX office found that he had engaged in multiple inappropriate relationships with players over an extended period of time, leading to his abrupt resignation later that spring.
On May 29, 2017, Nemeth’s father e-mailed Auburn’s former President, Jay Gogue, Athletics director, Jay Jacobs, and Title IX coordinator, Kelley Taylor, to inquire about the University’s plan to address Corey Myers’s inappropriate behavior and harassment of the Auburn players. Later that day, Head Coach Clint Myers informed Nemeth that there was no longer a spot available for her on the Auburn softball team. Two days later, Nemeth filed a complaint with Auburn’s Title IX department for sex discrimination and retaliation. While Nemeth’s counsel was still communicating with Auburn’s General Counsel about this complaint, Auburn’s Jay Jacobs and Meredith Jenkins signed Head Coach Clint Myers to a three-year contract extension. Nemeth and her father continued to speak with Auburn officials throughout the summer of 2017, including to new President, Dr. Steven Leath, Auburn board member, Bob Dumas, and Auburn’s lead trustee for athletics, Gaines Lanier. Clint Myers resigned on Aug. 23, 2017. One month later, Nemeth tried out for the team under the new head coach, Mickey Dean, and was not selected.
On Oct. 25, 2017, Auburn’s Title IX department wrote Nemeth to inform her that while there was sufficient evidence to support a finding of unwanted sexual conduct by Corey Myers, the evidence was insufficient to show that his conduct created a hostile environment for Nemeth. Nemeth appealed this outcome, and her appeal was denied 10 days later.
Now, Nemeth has commenced a federal court action against Auburn University, Jay Gogue, and Steven Leath, as well as both Clint and Corey Myers under Title IX and § 1983 for sex discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and failure to supervise. Nemeth’s causes of action arise from (1) her belief that Corey’s individualized coaching attention and praise, which directly contradicted Clint Myers’s feedback, was done in an effort to groom her for an inappropriate relationship; (2) Auburn’s negligent handling of the discovery that Corey was engaging in inappropriate behavior with players; and (3) her dismissal from the team in the wake of her complaints to Auburn officials. This case could have broad-sweeping implications, especially as to the sex discrimination claims, due to the fact that these claims are not predicated on one specific instance of harassment, but instead a pervasive and permissive culture of gender-based harassment.