Friday, March 24

LSU whistleblower claims coach Frank Wilson sexually harassed her

In an amended complaint filed Thursday, former Louisiana State University employee Sharon Lewis claims that she was fired as a retaliatory move just weeks after LSU announced the return of associate head football coach Frank Wilson in December.
Edmund D. Fountain/USA TODAY

Less than a year after enduring scathing public criticism for widespread mishandling of sexual misconduct complaints, Louisiana State University recently rehired a man who allegedly harassed and exposed himself to coworkers during his previous stint at the school, according to an amended complaint filed Thursday in federal court. 

The amendment is part of a lawsuit filed last year by LSU whistleblower Sharon Lewis, who until January was the school’s associate athletic director of football recruiting. 

Lewis claims that she was fired as a retaliatory move just weeks after LSU announced the return of associate head football coach Frank Wilson in December. Wilson, the complaint states, sexually harassed Lewis and others when he was the school’s running back coach from 2010 to 2016. It also states that Lewis reported his behavior to her bosses but that it was not taken seriously at the time.

USA TODAY interviewed Lewis and two other former LSU athletic office employees, one whose allegations also are included in the amended complaint. The women provided details about inappropriate comments and gestures he made and shared text messages from 2013 raising concerns about Wilson.

It is USA TODAY’s policy not to publish the names of people who allege sexual assault or harassment without their permission.

“I couldn’t believe they hired this guy back knowing what I was going through, what so many girls went through,” Lewis told USA TODAY. “That just shows me that they don’t care about women.”

Lewis’ allegations against Wilson were not included in her original complaint. She said his return to LSU triggered memories of the abuse – a common trauma response – prompting her to update the record. 

Among the details provided in the amended complaint is a description of an incident that allegedly happened in 2013 in which Wilson entered Lewis’ office, “closed the door and pulled out his erect penis and asked her to touch it.” 

The complaint also claims that Wilson “kissed a female employee without her permission” in 2013 and “sexually harassed” female students and workers from 2012 to 2015. 

Frank Wilson (foreground) photographed during his previous stint as LSU's running back coach and recruiting coordinator.
Frank Wilson (foreground) photographed during his previous stint as LSU’s running back coach and recruiting coordinator.
Derick E. Hingle, USA TODAY Sports

All the incidents were reported at the time to Executive Deputy Athletic Director Verge Ausberry and Senior Associate Athletic Director Miriam Segar, the amended complaint states, but they “failed to investigate or take any action.”

In response to USA TODAY’s request for any complaints or grievances filed against Wilson during his time at LSU, officials said they “can confirm LSU doesn’t have any complaints or grievances regarding Mr. Wilson of this nature.”

“We are unaware of any prior allegations against Frank Wilson, and there is no evidence that any such allegations were ever reported to LSU officials,” said LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard III.  “Further, none of these allegations were shared during the highly visible, independent Title IX review that LSU initiated last year.” 

The school did, however, provide documents showing that Wilson was reprimanded in 2012 and banned from recruiting off campus after an “impermissible” meeting with a potential student football player. 

Ausberry, too, told USA TODAY he had “no recollection of [the allegations] ever, ever, ever coming to me, or anyone on the university side. I’ve never heard anything like that. Never seen anything like that regarding Frank Wilson.” He referred all further questions to the school’s legal counsel. 

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The school noted that Lewis’ termination was not in isolation but part of a mass staffing change initiated by new head football coach Brian Kelly. Hired in November, Kelly dismissed 42 employees from the 72-person department. 

“When we hired the new coach, he brought in his own staff. This is typical when coaching changes are made,” said Cody Worsham, a spokesperson for the LSU athletic department.

LSU did not make Wilson available for comment, and Segar did not respond to calls and text messages.

Wilson left LSU in 2015 to become head football coach at the University of Texas at San Antonio and later head football coach at McNeese State University. 

McNeese told USA TODAY that Wilson had no record of complaints, grievances or investigations into allegations of misconduct, or disciplinary actions.

The University of Texas at San Antonio did not respond to multiple requests regarding Wilson’s time at the school.

Lewis’ legal team says they are confident that “if this matter goes to trial, they can prove Ms. Lewis was terminated in retaliation for her reporting Frank Wilson’s predatory behavior,” Lewis’ lead attorney, Larry English, told USA TODAY. 

LSU's then-head football coach Les Miles alongside Tigers recruitment coordinator and running back coach Frank Wilson (middle).
LSU’s then-head football coach Les Miles alongside Tigers recruitment coordinator and running back coach Frank Wilson (middle).
Derick E. Hingle, USA TODAY

Lewis filed two lawsuits last year against LSU and specific individuals, including Ausberry and Segar, claiming they conspired to cover up then-head football coach Les Miles’ sexual harassment and then engaged in a years-long retaliation against her for having reported it.

Miles, who was LSU’s head football coach from 2005 to 2016, was accused of texting female students, taking them to his condo alone, making them feel uncomfortable and, on at least one occasion, kissing a student and suggesting they go to a hotel after telling her he could help her career, according to an internal 2013 investigative report that USA TODAY obtained after suing the school.

Lewis’ claimed that Miles in particular harassed and undermined her for years, trying to sexualize the group of student workers she supervised.

Her lawsuits came on the heels of a USA TODAY investigation that exposed the school’s mishandling of sexual misconduct complaints. The findings of that investigation were confirmed in a report by the law firm Husch Blackwell, which LSU hired to review its handling of such claims in response to USA TODAY’s reporting. 

As a result, LSU suspended Ausberry and Segar without pay for 30 days and 21 days, respectively – punishments decried by state lawmakers and students as too forgiving. They were the only LSU employees who faced discipline in connection with the investigation.

“How does LSU explain keeping Ausberry and Segar on its staff,” English said, “after the Husch Blackwell report documented they both subverted Title IX and enabled sexual predators?”

Before his first stint at LSU, Wilson made a name for himself as a beloved high school football coach in New Orleans, where he spent several years leading his teams to success. In 2005, he was named running back coach for Ole Miss, and two years later he went to the University of Southern Mississippi, then to the University of Tennessee. 

His connections made him a top recruiter of Louisiana talent and helped him land a spot as a key member of LSU’s football team under Miles in 2010. Wilson was considered a rising star in the NCAA on the football field, but inside the school’s recruiting office, he had a reputation as a sexual harasser, Lewis and the other two women told USA TODAY.

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“Everybody knew how Frank was,” said one of the former staffers, who was in her 20s at the time. “It got to a point where we didn’t want any of the girls working with him. I dealt with Frank’s sexual harassment for years. His comments. His behavior. He always made, not only me, but so many of the girls feel so uncomfortable.”

LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
LSU’s Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The Associated Press

The woman described an incident in which she alleged Wilson kissed her without consent during an after-hours meeting about football recruitment. She said the two were alone in a room, and she was sitting at a table while Wilson was writing on a dry-erase board behind her.

Suddenly, she said, “he came around the side of me and just kissed me on the lips. I stopped, yelled ‘what are you doing,’ and ran out to Sharon’s office crying.”

The woman said she told only some close family and friends, including Lewis, who reported it to Segar. When Wilson discovered that the woman reported the incident, she said, he tried to have her fired. But Lewis intervened and spared the woman’s job, she said.

The woman also shared a text message she sent Wilson at the time warning him that his calls to her were “inappropriate” and asking him to go through Lewis for work-related matters.  

Wilson did not respond.

“I consider myself very headstrong, you have to be, working in that environment with all those men,” she said. “But just knowing that it still happened, even though I tried everything I possibly could to make sure it wouldn’t…that’s what just upsets me. 

“The fact that he’s back at LSU – the same place that I was assaulted and Sharon was assaulted – there’s no telling what’s going on right now.”

In another set of text messages shared with USA TODAY, Lewis told Segar she was concerned about Wilson’s behavior in March and April of 2013. Referring to Wilson as “coach” in the exchanges, Lewis said she was suspicious that he was “texting another girl” and asked Segar if they should talk to her about it.

“Maybe but let’s wait until we get together,” Segar replied. “I will call you in about an hour. OK?”

These messages, which LSU declined to comment on, took place sometime before Lewis alleges that Wilson sexually assaulted her. 

Lewis said that incident occurred later in 2013 and involved Wilson entering her office and closing the door behind them so that they were alone. 

“He walks up to me, stands there. There are no words spoken. He unzips his pants. Pulls out his d— and he’s walking toward me and I’m frozen,” Lewis told USA TODAY. “He grabs my hand and tries to get me to touch him. I’m pulling my hand back. My eyes are closed, trying to pray it away.”

She said when she opened her eyes, she could see Wilsons’ penis near her mouth and a grin on his face. Then he zipped up his pant  and walked out of her office. 

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“That’s when I unfroze, fell to the floor and started crying,” she said. “I told my sister immediately and then told Verge a few days later about what happened.”

The third woman interviewed by USA TODAY said Wilson was constantly verbally harassing her, making comments sexual in nature and offering to “take care of her.” 

“He asked me if my boyfriend was taking care of me. He said he would take care of me and even offered to pay my bills if I needed,” the woman said. 

Not long after receiving a termination letter via email, Lewis said, movers knocked on her front door with two dozen boxes in tow. 

It was the moving truck that made it real for Lewis. After two decades of employment at her alma mater, her career there was over.

“LSU didn’t even give them my name,” Lewis said. “They just packed up my whole life and shipped it out. All twenty years and eight months of my life.”

Lewis joined the LSU football program in 2002 as coordinator for recruiting. In 2007, she took on the role as associate athletic director of football recruiting and became the first female in the Southeastern Conference to hold the job. 

Before working there full-time, Lewis was an All-SEC heptathlete and high jumper for LSU’s national championship women’s track and field program. She also worked as a student assistant in recruiting while earning her bachelors from the school. 

“What keeps haunting me now is when I went for help to my superiors, I was met with animosity,” Lewis said. “I remember them always telling me, ‘Well, Sharon, if you don’t like it here, go work somewhere else,’ or ‘It’s time for you to leave.’”

Sharon Lewis reported former LSU football coach Les Miles for alleged sexual misconduct in 2013. After the report, Lewis claims, the university retaliated against her. In April 2021, Lewis filed a lawsuit against LSU over the alleged retaliation.
Sharon Lewis reported former LSU football coach Les Miles for alleged sexual misconduct in 2013. After the report, Lewis claims, the university retaliated against her. In April 2021, Lewis filed a lawsuit against LSU over the alleged retaliation.
Edmund D. Fountain/USA TODAY

Jim Hopper, a Harvard University psychologist, who trains investigators around the country on trauma and memory, said it’s not unusual for trauma victims to suddenly remember an event years later. 

“Memories partly come up because it reminds you of something else,” Hopper said. “It’s very associative. If you hear about the perpetrator, that can trigger memories of an old event.”

Hopper noted that some victims “may not rememeber details because [those investigating] were incompetent in their investigation in the first place.” 

“Memories are not just a quality of what is going on in someone’s brain,” he said. “Depending on how those conversations went, if the administrators or investigators didn’t respond well, or didn’t care, the brain gets the message – what’s the point? It’s how our brains have evolved to work.”

Albert Van Lare, an attorney representing Lewis, said now that the amended complaint has been filed, the court will set a time for LSU to file any response to the amended complaint.

“With the amended complaint we are confident Sharon’s efforts to protect vulnerable young women at LSU will be vindicated in this litigation,” Van Lare said.

In the weeks since her termination, Lewis said, she has been spending time in therapy, watering her plants and hugging her dog. 

“I’m on a journey trying to heal,” she said. “I spent so many years fighting for other people. Now I’m finally fighting for myself.”

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