Former Spirit Squad director sues UCLA over unfair dismissal

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The longtime former director of the UCLA Spirit Squad sued the school’s Title IX office, alleging he botched an investigation that led to his dismissal after members of the Spirits team attended a burlesque spectacle in Las Vegas with a prominent athletic booster.

The lawsuit, filed late last month in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of Mollie Vehling, calls for the investigation’s findings that Vehling to be responsible for the sexual harassment of several members of the Spirit Squad to be repealed. , although she was not at the “Absinthe” show at Caesars Palace. She was fired in May 2019.

Vehling, who for 19 years chaired the spirits team which includes the cheerleader team, the dance team and the scream team, argues that the school’s Title IX office has failed him. failed to give a fair hearing, failed to proceed in the manner required by law and prejudiced abuse of discretion in making a decision which was not supported by the evidence of the investigation.

“Ultimately, I hope to clear my name and truly address concerns about how the Title IX investigation was carried out,” Vehling, 44, told The Times on Friday afternoon. “The survey was overall inaccurate and did not reflect the whole story.”

Mollie Vehling from UCLA

(Courtesy of Mollie Vehling)

Vehling said she would like to return to her old job and represent her alma mater again. Her lawsuit came after she exhausted all administrative remedies at the university, which denied any wrongdoing in a statement provided to The Times.

“As an institution, UCLA remains committed to fully supporting all of our students and their well-being is our top priority,” said school spokesperson Mary Osako. “Immediately upon learning of this incident, the university’s Title IX office undertook a thorough investigation. UCLA has strong policies and procedures in place to ensure fairness and justice for all involved. This process ultimately resulted in the dismissal of Mollie Vehling. The university is eager to respond in detail to his petition in court. “

UCLA refused to provide information or documents regarding Vehling to The Times despite repeated requests for public documents, stating in July 2019 that “documents containing personnel or other information the disclosure of which would constitute an unjustified loss of life private are exempt from disclosure “.

The school’s Title IX investigation centered on the burlesque spectacle that several members of the Spirits Team attended on Thanksgiving 2018 while in Las Vegas to cheer on the men’s basketball team during the games against Michigan State and North Carolina.

The previous month, Alan Robbins, a major athletics donor and former state senator who was previously charged but acquitted of having sex with two 16-year-old high school girls in the late 1970s, asked Vehling if members of the Spirits team would be interested in attending a show in Las Vegas.

Vehling said on Friday that Robbins’ past – which also included a 1992 conviction for racketeering, extortion and tax evasion – was known to university officials, but she described him as a passionate and dedicated booster who didn’t never acted inappropriately with the spirits team.

“We were aware of what happened when he was a senator,” said Vehling, “but the sports department mainly cultivates relationships and manages donors. They 100% welcomed Mr. Robbins to all of them. Elite Donor Commitments – private parties, high profile trips to which our donors are invited, Mr. Robbins has always been treated and welcomed as he should be.

The only show that matched the team’s schedule on their trip to Las Vegas was a late-night performance of “Absinthe,” which is described on the Caesars Palace website as “an intoxicating cocktail of circus, burlesque and vaudeville for a 21st century audience ”. Vehling, who did not accompany the team on the trip because she was visiting relatives in San Diego, reviewed the show online and saw it as a Cirque du Soleil type event. She asked team members via group text if they wanted to attend.

Attendance at donor-hosted events is never mandatory as part of Spiritual Squad policy, the costume says, and members are regularly urged to immediately leave any situation in which they are uncomfortable. .

After checking out the show online, some members of the Spirits team chose not to attend, including Tiphanie McNiff, a part-time coach who accompanied the team on the trip to Las Vegas. Members of the Spirit Squad who wanted to see the show arrived late and were seated in the front row. But they left and returned to their hotel after just 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the costume, after the emcee addressed several obscene remarks to them.

Vehling claimed in the lawsuit that she had not been made aware of any student’s distress over the show, other than McNiff who told her they didn’t like the show and that the obscene remarks had never been disclosed to Vehling prior to the UCLA Title IX final report which found her responsible for sexual harassment.

“I couldn’t believe the Title IX investigation would come back and say I had done anything,” Vehling said on Friday. “I was in San Diego with my family for Thanksgiving when the students were at the show, which is a big show at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in a whole different state, but yet I’m accused of sexual harassment?” It is shameful, it is breathtaking.

A week after the trip to Las Vegas, Vehling was placed on indefinite leave and barred from entering campus or from contact with members of the Spirit Squad. Vehling said she was denied access to her Spirit Squad emails, phone and files during the investigation despite her requests for information retrieval, being allowed only to review a redacted copy of the evidence through an online portal for three days so that she can respond to the evidence.

In addition, the prosecution claims, Adriana Ovalle-Stevenson, the Title IX investigator involved in the case, has not spoken with any members of the Spirit Squad or five witnesses proposed by Vehling “who could give a well-balanced perspective on the Spirit Squad’s interaction with donors.According to the lawsuit, of the four Spirit Squad members interviewed, none said they had been sexually harassed.

Vehling said in the lawsuit she actively showed respect for the school’s Title IX policy by once reporting alleged sexual harassment directed at a member of the Spirit Squad’s dance team by Josh Rebholz , Senior Athletic Director and Head of Development at UCLA.

The dance team member, who was the daughter of an anonymous UCLA trainer, showed Vehling “explicit text messages” from Rebholz in November 2014 that Vehling reported to her supervisor, Julie Sina, vice – Associate Chancellor for Alumni Affairs. The lawsuit says Sina “ordered Ms. Vehling never to talk about it again.”

According to two sources close to the sports department, UCLA sent Rebholz a letter of reprimand but cleared him of any wrongdoing that would require more severe punishment.

Vehling said in the lawsuit she reported to Sina in June 2018 of other instances of inappropriate interactions involving a major donor besides Robbins with UCLA students who were not members of the Spiritual Team. .

But after being put on leave in November 2018, Vehling said Sina falsely claimed she had verbally ordered Vehling six months earlier to stop all contact between Robbins, the former state senator, and the Spirit Squad, even though Robbins hadn’t reported any inappropriate history. behavior and was known to Sina and other school officials for interacting with members of the Spiritual Team during men’s soccer and basketball games in the fall of 2018.

UCLA’s Title IX office retained the services of an independent investigative firm to assess allegations that Robbins was responsible for the sexual harassment of Spirit Squad members. UCLA Administrative Vice Chancellor Michael J. Beck cleared Robbins of all sexual harassment in September 2019, but wrote that he “engaged in conduct that disrupted university activities and programs involving the UCLA Student Spirit Team ”.

As a result, Beck revoked Robbins’ access to seats in the 15-row Spirit Team at basketball games and banned him from receiving passes to football games until June 30. 2022. Robbins was also prohibited from attending receptions or events where Spirit Team members may appear during the same period or make contact with Spirit Squad members while they were enrolled at UCLA.

Beck later said Vehling’s dismissal should be upheld on the basis of his “fault and failure to maintain proper job performance standards” after allowing members of the Spirits team to attend the burlesque show. .

“It appears that Ms. Vehling did not check the Absinthe website herself or do her due diligence before assessing its relevance to students who felt they were obligated to do so. attend the show as part of their official duties as members of the spiritual team. Beck wrote in a May 2020 letter to campus human resources. “Did she really access [sic] relevance of the show, she should have concluded that a “burlesque” show enlivened by the “dirty ordinary” in an “immersive adult playground” with “sexy performers” would be inappropriate for an activity sanctioned by a spirit squad especially when not supervised and moderated by Mr. Robbins, about whom members had previously expressed concerns.

Vehling claimed on Friday that no one on the team had ever raised concerns about Robbins and that she had been the victim of a double standard.

“For UCLA to tell Mr. Robbins that no charges will be brought against you regarding the event,” Vehling said, “but [also say] “Molly, you’re fired on the same charges” – you can’t have it both ways. “

Vehling said she had not returned to campus since her dismissal, needing special permission from the university just to contact her parents and sister while on leave because they are former students. She accepted a position as director of California Strong, a Southern California-based charity, but would love to return to where she’s called home since she walked the campus as a college student. first year in 1995.

“It has been exceptionally heartbreaking to go through this and I really desperately want to clear my name, so that these accusations are not tied to me and my family,” Vehling said. “I really think the UCLA Title IX investigations and the whole process need to be looked at very carefully because they are being carried out inappropriately right now.”


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