Former San Jose State University Employee Alleges Cover-Ups and Whistleblower Retaliation

san jose state university, whistleblower retaliation

A former San Jose State University employee has alleged that top university officials engaged in covering up misconduct and retaliated against whistleblowers, according to a September 17 USA TODAY article.

Steve O’Brien, who formerly worked at the university as a deputy athletics director, filed a tort claim notice on August 26. The claim alleges that in several situations involving rule violations, O’Brien was retaliated against for not following along with cover-up schemes that aimed to cloak said violations.

In one instance in October of 2019, the Senior Associate Athletic Director of Compliance David Rasmussen found that a student had “allegedly participated in over 170 unlawful gambling wagers on a variety of collegiate and professional sports,” a violation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules. The university’s Athletic Director, Marie Tuite, allegedly urged O’Brien to retaliate against Rasmussen. A different case involved student athletes engaging in drug use, also in violation of NCAA rules. Rasmussen conducted an investigation and “found reasonable suspicion to subject the athletes to a drug test,” but Tuite allegedly engaged in retaliatory behavior against Rasmussen for his recommendations, according to O’Brien’s claim.

Another situation involved the reopening of a 2009 Title IX investigation, in which “more than a dozen female athletes” accused the university’s Director of Sports Medicine and Head Athletic Trainer Scott Shaw of sexual misconduct, according to the claim. Shaw was not charged with wrongdoing following the 2009 investigation and has recently resigned. Since the outcome of his case, “various aspects of the University’s initial investigation have been widely criticized by student-athletes and employees.” In 2019, the NCAA ordered a renewal of the case, and O’Brien started working with Sage Hopkins, the university’s Head Swimming and Diving Coach, whose follow-up work on the 2009 Shaw case was instrumental to the case’s reinvestigation. When O’Brien sent an email “detailing allegations to support his belief that the re-opened Title IX investigation contained the same serious flaws as SJSU’s initial investigation,” Tuite reprimanded him, according to O’Brien’s claim. Tuite also allegedly wanted O’Brien to discipline Hopkins for his involvement in the Title IX reinvestigation, which O’Brien thought would be an act of whistleblower retaliation. O’Brien expressed his concerns regarding the treatment of Hopkins but allegedly continued to be retaliated against. On March 2, 2020, O’Brien was fired.

O’Brien’s claim names the university, Tuite, university President Mary Papazian, Senior Associate Vice President for Personnel Joanne Wright, and Senior Associate Athletic Director Eileen Daley “as being complicit in the wrongful termination and in covering up the other allegations,” according to USA TODAY.

“Mr. O’Brien was fired for exposing San Jose State’s cover-up of the alleged sexual assault committed by Scott Shaw,” O’Brien’s attorney Christopher Boscia told USA TODAY in an email. “We also allege Mr. O’Brien was fired for uncovering widespread retaliation related to San Jose State’s NCAA compliance.”

San Jose State University responded to USA TODAY in an email, stating: “Although we disagree with many of Mr. O’Brien’s assertions, it is our practice not to comment on personnel matters.” Tuite told USA TODAY that she would respond to their inquiries but has yet to do so.

Read an article on the case from KPIX.

Read an article on the case from NBC Bay Area.

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