A former student-athlete at the University of Connecticut filed a lawsuit earlier this winter after the school allegedly revoked her scholarship because of a hand gesture in a post-game celebration, labeling it “serious misconduct.”
Plaintiff Noriana Radwan alleges federal violations of Title IX, Constitutional Rights of Equal Protection, Procedural Due Process, and First Amendment freedom of speech, as well as state claims for breach of the Grant-in-Aid scholarship contract and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Radwan, who is represented by Gregory J. Tarone of Newburgh, NY, is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
Named in the lawsuit are the UConn Board of Trustees, former UConn Athletic Director Warde Manuel, now at the University of Michigan, current women’s soccer Head Coach Len Tsantiris, and Director of Student Financial Aid Services Mona Lucas.
The incident occurred on Nov. 9, 2014 when, after the UConn women’s soccer team beat the University of South Florida by penalty kicks to win the American Athletic Conference Championship in Tampa, Radwan was caught by a live ESPNU camera flashing her middle finger in celebration.
As punishment, Coach Len Tsantiris immediately suspended Radwan from the team for the remainder of the season. She was reinstated to the team weeks later, but on Dec. 19, 2014 Tsantiris notified Radwan he was taking away her scholarship because, the complaint claims, Tsantiris needed Radwan’s out-of-state grant-in-aid to offer a full scholarship to another out-of-state player.
The lawsuit stems from Manuel, Tsantiris and Lucas characterizing Radwan’s expression on television as “serious misconduct” under NCAA By-Law 22.214.171.124(c), which is normally reserved for criminal, violent and felonious offenses, according to the complaint.
The plaintiff further alleges that UConn’s breach under the new NCAA four-level enforcement appears to be a Level 1 breach of contract that can bring severe consequences to UConn. The complaint cites the Southeastern Conference definition of “serious misconduct” being “sexual assault, domestic violence or other forms of sexual violence.”
Radwan notes that former offensive lineman Brian Cespedes was not suspended from his team after he was arrested on Dec. 10 on misdemeanor assault charges stemming from a September incident. “It’s clear that there have been many other incidents of much more serious misconduct and nobody lost a scholarship over it,” Tarone told Sports Litigation Alert. “She’s a female student-athlete who was treated differently than male athletes at the institution,” he added.
Radwan alleged in her complaint that Tsantiris told her “he had no problems with [her] attitude and that he knew she did not mean it, and that it was, as he had said a ‘silly mistake.’” But because of the attention it received — “it was all over the internet and television”— he said he had to immediately suspend her.
A month later, Tsantiris allegedly told Radwan that she should not attend UConn in the spring and, instead, “take classes at a community college.” Further, she alleged that he said he would take her back in the fall, but only if she did not appeal. Finally, the plaintiff claimed that Tsantiris said he would be happy to contact prospective coaches and that he “wouldn’t say anything bad about her,” if she decided to transfer.
Radwan did appeal on Jan. 14, 2015. But she claims she was notified two weeks later that the appeal was denied because she missed the deadline, which Radwan claims was never made clear to her.