Toledo faces Title IX complaints over failure to address allegations against women’s soccer coach

<span>Photograph: Visionhaus/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Visionhaus/Getty Images

The Federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has received multiple complaints concerning potential Title IX violations by the University of Toledo, according to a person familiar with the case. The complaints followed a Guardian investigation involving allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment and emotional abuse by a past coach of the university’s soccer program.

The Office for Civil Rights said it did not comment on specific cases but it appears – based on internal emails from OCR acquired by the Guardian – that an area of interest is how the University of Toledo’s Title IX office did not adequately address allegations against former women’s soccer coach Brad Evans when it was informed of an alleged sexual assault of an assistant coach and emotional abuse of players.

Related: ‘Everyone knew his past’: how a coach stayed in soccer despite troubling allegations

The Guardian can also reveal the United States Soccer Federation, the governing body of the sport in the US and the only governing organization in the US recognized by Fifa, is powerless to intervene in college and high school abuse cases because it has no jurisdiction over the sport at those levels.

The Toledo case has exposed a complex sports system in the United States riddled with loopholes that fails to protect athletes and young coaches from sexual harassment or abuse by those in authority. Instead of vulnerable athletes and young coaches being protected, it is perpetrators and institutions who are shielded from accountability.

Alleged harassers and abusers are often not held accountable and can take jobs elsewhere even with serious allegations hanging over their heads while a slow-moving accountability process unrolls or allegations are either mischaracterized or not fully investigated at all.

“Educational institutions that allow coaches to continue to work and interact with student athletes after learning of sexual abuse allegations against them are exposing themselves to the risk that they acted with deliberate indifference in violation of Title IX,” Christina Cheung, a partner with Gloria Allred in the law firm of Allred, Maroko & Goldberg, told the Guardian.

Added Cheung: “‘Deliberate indifference’ is a fact-intensive question that varies case-by-case and generally means the educational institution acted in a manner that is ‘clearly unreasonable in light of all of the known circumstances’ and the educational institution’s actions were the ‘cause of the students to undergo harassment or make them liable or vulnerable to it’”.

However, Cheung said that making a successful Title IX claim against an educational institution is difficult for sexual abuse survivors to achieve because of the high legal burden to prove deliberate indifference.

“Plaintiffs must show that their educational institution acted with deliberate indifference to known acts of sexual harassment (or) abuse that were sufficiently ‘severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it deprived the victims of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school’,” Cheung added in an email to the Guardian.

Title IX is a multi-layered federal law passed in 1972 that demands “no person be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination on the basis of sex.” In 1988, then-US president Ronald Reagan vetoed an update to the law claiming the legislation “vastly and unjustifiably expands the power of the federal government over the decisions and affairs of private organizations”. Congress overrode Reagan’s veto. An ultimate consequence of a Title IX violation can be a federal government funding cut to a university or college, yet this consequence has never occurred in the history of the law.

“The ultimate ramification for a verdict is that a university loses funding but that has never happened in any time that Title IX has been enacted,” said Becca Getson, Director of Legal Services and Advocacy at Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, an advocacy organization for survivors of sexual violence. “No university has ever lost its federal funding. Typically there will be an agreement that the university will modify what it has done.”

The Department of Education did not respond to repeated requests to confirm this claim.

“Title IX is a federal law and any law is only as good as the enforcement mechanism and the policies utilized to do that,” said Getson. “It really depends upon how the institutions enact that, the policies and procedures, and the training that comes from various laws. Filing a complaint is a long-term process. It is a marathon and not a sprint. It is not months, it is maybe years. Filing a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights is kind of like an appeal process to something that has happened or not happened.”

While the United States Soccer Federation is powerless to address alleged abuse within college and high school soccer it does have jurisdiction over state federations and most youth club soccer. Under another US federal law, the Safe Sport Act of 2017, the USSF delegates allegations of abuse to the US Center for SafeSport.

University of Toledo coach Brad Evans (not to be confused with the former MLS player with the same name) was reported to SafeSport in 2019 but it was not until 2022 – following the Guardian’s investigation into events at the University of Toledo – that Evans was added to the SafeSport Central Disciplinary Database.

As well as coaching college soccer, Evans was also a coaching instructor with the USSF through the Ohio Soccer Association. Following the Guardian report, USSF canceled Evans’ licenses and removed him from his role as a coaching instructor. A SafeSport investigation into the allegations against Evans remains open.

“High school and college soccer programs are not affiliated with US Soccer or the Olympic movement and high schools and colleges are not Organization Members of US Soccer;” a USSF spokesperson told the Guardian. “They are not required to follow US Soccer’s bylaws or policies.”

Under the Safe Sport Act, US Soccer is required to report allegations of sexual misconduct to the US Center for SafeSport. The Center has exclusive jurisdiction over all allegations of sexual misconduct. US Soccer is prohibited from investigating allegations.

The University of Toledo has previously said that the institution did conduct an investigation following a report by a student-athlete in January 2015 of verbal harassment by Evans, who was at the time the head coach of the women’s soccer team.

When contacted by the Guardian about allegations against Evans a university spokesperson said: “The investigation did find that Mr Evans’ conduct toward student-athletes may have violated the University’s Standards of Conduct policy, however, the case was not referred for possible disciplinary action because by the conclusion of the investigation in March 2015, Mr Evans had already resigned his position effective February 23, 2015.”

The university did not respond to questions about how its Title IX office responded to reports about Evans, including a 2020 report to the university concerning an earlier alleged assault. According to a spokesperson from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the University of Toledo currently has one pending investigation into a prior complaint of alleged Title IX violation in addition to the recent complaints. It is not known what that pending investigation includes, but the other complaints involve Evans.

Currently, universities are not bound to disclose why a member of staff left an institution. The University of Toledo had received multiple allegations against Evans - including sexual assault - yet he resigned from his role claiming to local media his reason was due to an inappropriate relationship with a co-worker. The university made no attempt to correct that narrative nor explain why he was subject to an investigation.

“We see coaches jump from team to team across the spectrum,” said Caitlin Burke, OAESV’s Director of Prevention and Public Health. “We see this also at high school level and not just at college or professional sports which plays to a system-wide issue.

Adds Burke: “You have to have policies that are effective, you have to have procedures that are actually working. There has to be a culture where the community has everyone on board to identify what is really causing this and not just taking one person out of the system. Part of prevention is looking at those loopholes and how policies are working or not working. Part of that is looking at the environment or the culture or the system that we have built making it possible for this to continue to happen.”

  • When previously contacted by The Guardian about allegations against him coach Brad Evans responded via email with a statement that said:

    In 2015 I was asked to answer questions about my relationships with some past co-workers. It was clear that my interactions with those co-workers demonstrated poor judgment on my part, and were against university policy, and resigning was best for all involved.

    With the help of counseling, I have learned a lot about the causes of my behavior. I am extremely lucky to have the support of my wife in this process. Together, I continue to learn to become a better person.

    I am deeply sorry to have disappointed so many individuals, but I continue to work on making a positive future.

    Thank you for the opportunity to provide my perspective.