UK suspended swim coach in 2019 in sexual harassment investigation of assistant

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University of Kentucky head swim coach Lars Jorgensen was suspended without pay for six days in December 2019 for failing to report sexual harassment allegations made against one of his staff members, according to documents obtained by the Herald-Leader under Kentucky’s Open Records Act.

More recently, in April, two former UK swimmers and assistant swim coaches filed a federal lawsuit against UK, Jorgensen and UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart. They alleged that Jorgensen sexually assaulted them and created a “toxic, sexually hostile environment” inside UK’s swim program while school officials looked the other way.

Jorgensen denies the allegations. UK bought out his employment contract for $75,000 in June 2023 following a seven-day suspension for self-reported NCAA rules violations on student-athlete training.

But records obtained from UK show that suspension was not Jorgensen’s first.

In 2019, UK’s Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity investigated complaints about sexual harassment by one of Jorgensen’s associate head swim coaches, Laurence W. “Chip” Kline, according to documents obtained by the Herald-Leader.

Jorgensen hired Kline as an assistant in 2013, shortly after being promoted to head swim coach.

Investigators said women on the team complained that Kline made sexually degrading comments about their bodies, commented on their private sexual relationships, made a female swimmer hug him, touched a swimmer’s neck to take her pulse and touched a swimmer’s knee to lift her towel.

In a Dec. 4, 2019, interview with investigators, Jorgensen said he was unaware of many of the allegations and did not follow up on others, such as Kline trying to get a female swimmer to hug him before she could collect her things from the swim team room.

“Did it seem concerning that a male coach made a female swimmer hug him?” an investigator asked.

“If I knew it was true, yes,” Jorgensen said. “I think we have all hugged athletes, like after a big win at a race. But to go around randomly hugging would be inappropriate.”

“Did you report to anybody that allegation was made?” the investigator asked.

“No, not that I’m aware of, no,” Jorgensen said.

Sandy Bell, the compliance officer for the UK Athletic Department, told investigators in her interview on Sept. 10, 2019, that she was aware of concerns about Kline from male and female members of the swim program, according to interview notes.

A male swimmer said that when one of the women walked by, Kline commented, “With a butt like that, she should be a good swimmer,” Bell said, according to the interview notes.

Bell said at the time she worried about the culture of UK’s swim team because there is “a lot of smoke around this program.”

Kline, who left UK in 2020, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Friday. In his interviews with investigators in 2019, he denied the allegations, calling them “lies.”

However, UK investigators concluded in a Dec. 6, 2019, case summary memo that multiple witnesses corroborated at least some of the sexual harassment allegations against Kline.

And in a separate memo that same day, investigators said witnesses also confirmed that Jorgensen knew about Kline trying to make a female swimmer hug him before she could pass by him in the team room. However, he failed to report the incident to the Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity, as he was required.

As a result of the 2019 sexual harassment investigation, Kline and Jorgensen both were suspended.

In 2020, Kline’s employment contract at UK was not renewed. He took a job that year with the Indiana Swim Club, based out of Indiana University.

Jorgensen continued to run UK’s swim program for three more years.

In the lawsuit against him, the plaintiffs say UK received complaints about Jorgensen’s sexually inappropriate relationships with women in college swim programs and his predatory behavior, from his hiring in 2012 up through his final weeks at UK in 2023, but school officials failed to seriously investigate.

Mark Howard, a former assistant swim coach at the University of Toledo, where Jorgensen once coached, last month showed the Herald-Leader emails that he sent to UK Athletic Department officials in 2012 and 2013. The emails alleged predatory actions by Jorgensen at Toledo and warned UK against hiring him.

“I wish you the best and hope he does not bring down your University. This is no joke at all and I cannot stomach the fact that he will be coaching women again,” Howard wrote to UK at that time.

Nobody at UK followed up with questions, Howard told the Herald-Leader.

UK officials said Friday that they handled the Kline case appropriately.

“At no time during the 2019 (Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity) investigation were any allegations of sexual misconduct or discrimination and harassment made about Lars Jorgensen by any staff, coaches or athletes,” said UK spokeswoman Kristi Willett.

“Violations were found against Kline and he was suspended and, ultimately, rejected for contract renewal or rehire for violations of UK’s policies on discrimination and harassment,” Willett said.

“UK has consistently acted upon and investigated allegations when they were known and when complainants have opted to pursue allegations,” she said.

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