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Title IX lawsuit claims UMBC failed to protect swimmer who reported abusive relationship

A new federal lawsuit claims that the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, failed to protect a female member of its swim team from an abusive partner even after she reported sexual violence and harassment to her coach.

The lawsuit comes amid an ongoing Department of Justice investigation into the university’s compliance with Title IX — the civil rights law that protects against sex-based discrimination at educational programs that receive federal funding — and a report that UMBC’s head swim coach inappropriately touched male swimmers and mishandled accusations of sexual misconduct among team members.

The swimming coach, Chad Cradock, is named extensively in the new federal lawsuit. Cradock resigned in 2020 and died by suicide in 2021, as allegations against him mounted.

The plaintiff is identified only by her initials in the complaint, which was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. She joined the UMBC swim team in 2017.

The lawsuit claims that the plaintiff suffered extensive abuse and harassment from a romantic partner who was also a member of the swim team.  The abuse included repeated sexual assaults, stalking, and sending countless text and social media messages, according to the complaint.

She first reported the abuse in March 2018 at a meeting in Cradock’s office, the complaint claims, and received no protection from the coach or the university.

“UMBC told [the plaintiff] it ‘didn’t want this to be a mess on the (UMBC swim) team,’ ” the plaintiff’s attorney, Rignal W. Baldwin V, wrote in the complaint.

The abuse continued even after the couple’s relationship ended, Baldwin wrote. The plaintiff was forced to sleep on a friend’s couch to get away from her abuser, who lived in the same dorm, and continued to receive frequent abusive messages.

As the plaintiff’s mental health suffered, she began to miss mandatory training sessions for the swim team. Cradock threatened to revoke her scholarship and said that things would “get worse” for her if she reported her complaints to UMBC’s Title IX office, the complaint claims.

Cradock also forced the plaintiff into a mediation session with her abuser, according to the complaint, and failed to report the misconduct to the university’s Title IX coordinator as required.

The harassment continued, including one incident in which the plaintiff’s former partner chased her on the campus, grabbed her and shook her, the complaint claims. The abuse was finally reported to UMBC’s Title IX coordinator in June 2018, but did not result in any action, according to the complaint.

“For the remainder of her undergraduate career, the plaintiff was forced to see her abuser on campus daily, at swim team activities, in classes, and at her dormitory, until graduation,” Baldwin wrote in the complaint.

Baldwin did not return an email requesting comment.

Dinah Winnick, a UMBC spokesperson, said it is “not appropriate for the university to comment at this time,” but also provided a brief statement:

“UMBC remains focused on our ongoing actions to build a community where sexual violence and misconduct are never acceptable.”

The Baltimore Sun reported this week that Baldwin is representing five swimmers whose complaints helped spark a university investigation into Cradock’s behavior with members of the team.

The federal lawsuit references an investigation and report that the law firm Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr completed at UMBC’s request. That report concluded that the plaintiff’s ex-boyfriend subjected her to a pervasive pattern of abuse, the complaint claims.

The Sun also reported that UMBC’s investigation found Cradock sexually harassed and inappropriately touched male swimmers and failed to report Title IX violations involving members of the team.

The lawsuit brings claims under Title IX and accuses UMBC of breach of contract, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress. UMBC has not filed a response to the complaint.