Former ASU athletics official files lawsuit against University, Ray Anderson

David Cohen claims he was wrongfully terminated after repeatedly asking officials to investigate a former booster's alleged sexual harassment

A former ASU associate athletic director filed a civil suit last week against the University, athletic director Ray Anderson and the Arizona Board of Regents claiming he was wrongfully terminated in 2019 for reporting allegations that a former athletic booster sexually harassed three women.

The civil lawsuit filed in Arizona District Court alleges plaintiff David Cohen's termination was a "clear retaliation" to his repeated requests made to officials that they investigate three women's allegations of sexual harassment made against former booster Bart Wear. The women include Cohen's wife, Kathy Cohen, the wife of men's basketball head coach Bobby Hurley, Leslie Hurley, and Lindsey Wood. The story was first reported by Yahoo Sports.

The lawsuit lays out a timeline of over nine months of Cohen persistently reporting the allegations and multiple people reportedly ignoring them, including Anderson, former regent Jay Heiler and deputy athletic director Jean Boyd.

According to the lawsuit, Cohen initially alerted Anderson of the allegations shortly after an incident on March 14, 2019, in Las Vegas at a Pac-12 Tournament game, where Wear allegedly harassed and assaulted Kathy Cohen. The lawsuit claims Anderson and the school didn't act promptly, not launching an investigation until August 2019.

The University hired an independent law firm to conduct the investigation, and it concluded that the women were "sexually harassed" by Wear, but he had not "grabbed anyone or sexually assaulted anyone."

The school previously acknowledged that it didn't address the allegations as promptly as it should have but said Cohen's claims of wrongful termination were without basis.

"In the summer of 2019, the university hired an outside law firm to conduct a full and independent investigation of Mr. Cohen’s claims of retaliation and wrongful termination," a University spokesperson said in a statement. "The investigation found those claims to be untrue. The claims alleged in the complaint lack a legal and factual basis."

When asked for a statement from Anderson and Boyd, the University referred back to the prior statement.

In February 2020, a University spokesperson said Cohen's termination "had nothing to do with the donor issue referenced in his notice of claim," saying it was due to him "refusing to cooperate" with a department reorganization that was planned before the complaints were made.

"This case is another example of an institution ignoring its responsibility to protect and report sexual harassment violations," Michael Perez, Cohen's lawyer, said in a statement Tuesday. "Many institutions decide to turn a blind eye to donor misconduct rather than turn off the money faucet."

In late November 2019, Wear told the University he would cease contact, communication, financial support and interaction with the men's basketball program. But Wear attended a game against Louisiana on Dec. 7, 2019, which eventually led to the University canceling his season tickets and barring him from attending athletic events.

Wear has denied all allegations and filed a $5 million claim of his own against ASU in May 2020, in which he called the investigation of the harassment claims a "character assassination" and "a hatchet job," in comments made to the Arizona Republic. According to the University spokesperson, Wear has yet to file a lawsuit against ASU.

Wear's lawyer, Larry Kazan, did not return multiple requests for comment at the time of publication.

The lawsuit comes more than a year after Cohen filed a $1.5 million notice of claim in February 2020, two months after he was fired in December 2019. The lawsuit did not list a specific monetary value he is seeking but asks for an award for damages making up for past and future wages, along with emotional distress.

In an interview with Yahoo Sports, Heiler said "As soon as I became aware of the alleged circumstances, I reported them to the university." He did not return calls made by The State Press at the time of publication.

ABOR did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.


Reach the reporter at ltochter@asu.edu and follow @Leo_Toch on Twitter.

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