Ten female athletes seek damages after findings of abuse against San Jose State trainer

Rachel Axon and Kenny Jacoby, USA TODAY
·6 min read
San Jose State University
San Jose State University

Ten former San Jose State University female athletes alleged school employees knew of a pattern of sexual abuse by a longtime athletic trainer but did nothing to protect them, according to tort claim notices they filed this week against the California State University System.

The tort claims, which are required in California before a lawsuit is filed, give a public agency 45 days to investigate and potentially settle ahead of a suit.

In their claims, the women allege CSU employees, including then-director of sports medicine Scott Shaw, subjected them to sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination, and that CSU was deliberately indifferent to the risk of sexual abuse. They assert violations of federal and state laws, including Title IX, and seek in excess of $10,000 in damages.

The women's claims mirror testimony by the CSU's own expert, who in a Title IX investigation that concluded last week described Shaw's actions as "at the very least unethical and disturbing." The investigation found Shaw’s physical therapy treatments lacked medical basis, ignored proper protocols and violated the system’s sexual harassment policies.

Shaw resigned in August, but the tort claim notices are the latest investigation or legal action stemming from his conduct since at least 2009.

Former San Jose State director of sports medicine Scott Shaw was found responsible in a series of state Title IX investigations for inappropriate contact with female athletes.
Former San Jose State director of sports medicine Scott Shaw was found responsible in a series of state Title IX investigations for inappropriate contact with female athletes.

In April, USA TODAY reported San Jose State was reinvestigating the allegations from 17 swimming and diving athletes who in 2009-2010 were part of a school investigation into Shaw’s conduct. Reporters interviewed four of the women, who said Shaw touched them inappropriately during “pressure-point” or “trigger-point” therapy. USA TODAY also spoke with a water polo and gymnastics athlete from around that time who described similar touching by Shaw.

“The outcome of San Jose State University’s Title IX investigation is an important first step towards justice for our clients, said Shounak Dharap, one of the attorneys for the women who filed the tort claim notices, said in a statement.

"These young women trusted SJSU to protect them and act in their best interests," Dharap said. "The findings of the investigation demonstrate the opposite. SJSU had a known systemic problem regarding sexual assault of athletes and students by its employees, including Scott Shaw.”

A CSU System spokesperson directed USA TODAY to university officials. In a statement, San Jose State spokesman Ken Mashinchi said the university is reviewing the claims.

"San Jose State University is dedicated to working every day to ensure a positive, safe and constructive environment on campus so that all students continue to get the most from their experience at SJSU," Mashinchi said.

The tort claims are the latest development regarding Shaw’s conduct in the past year, which has included Title IX investigations by the school and then the CSU System, a Department of Justice civil rights investigation and FBI criminal probe.

SJSU cleared Shaw then, finding the treatments constituted a scientific and accepted method of treatment for muscle injuries. Shaw was not disciplined and remained in his position for 10 more years, continuing to treat female athletes throughout that time.

According to the tort claim notice for one of the women, whose name and details were redacted, CSU failed to adequately train, investigate, retain and supervise Shaw, in breach of its duties.

Former San Jose State director of sports medicine Scott Shaw was found responsible in a series of state Title IX investigations for inappropriate contact with female athletes.
Former San Jose State director of sports medicine Scott Shaw was found responsible in a series of state Title IX investigations for inappropriate contact with female athletes.

“Numerous current and former athletes have detailed sexually inappropriate and abusive behavior by Shaw that continued unabated for over a decade, despite repeated attempts by students and SJSU staff to call attention to his behavior,” the tort claim states.

“SJSU and CSU knew, or should have known, from the pattern of similar reported violations by Shaw, that its inadequate sexual harassment and reporting training program was likely to result in a deprivation of the rights of students, including Claimant, to be free from the invasion of their bodily integrity through sexual assault, battery and abuse. Indeed, Claimant’s harm was a result of CSU’s failure to train its personnel.”

San Jose State began reinvestigating the women’s claims in late 2019 after women’s swimming and diving coach Sage Hopkins circulated a nearly 300-page document among university, Mountain West and NCAA officials. It detailed the allegations against Shaw, the school’s response and Hopkins’ claims of retaliation against him and his team for reporting and re-reporting them.

Amid resignations last spring, including of the school Title IX coordinator handling the case, San Jose State handed off the investigation to the CSU System.

A private law firm the system hired conducted at least 10 separate investigations into claims from the women, and last week the CSU System issued letters containing its findings. They described a pattern of Shaw touching the athletes’ breasts during treatment for injuries to other parts of their bodies.

In addition to former swimming and diving athletes who participated in the probe, two current SJSU female athletes told investigators Shaw inappropriately touched them.

One of the athletes said Shaw massaged her breasts, without explanation, under the guise of “pressure point therapy” in 2017. Another said on separate occasions in late 2019 and early 2020 Shaw grazed her breast and placed his hands on her buttocks. Both said Shaw’s treatments were unlike any they’d received from other SJSU athletic trainers.

In one of the letters, the investigator found that when Shaw touched the woman’s breast during treatment, it was not for a legitimate medical treatment, did not comply with accepted training and that his conduct was sexual in nature. Eleven of the 12 witnesses reported Shaw touching their breasts, and their accounts of similar conduct demonstrated that Shaw “had a pattern and practice of engaging in such behavior,” according to the report.

Records show Shaw did not participate in the CSU investigation. Through his attorney, Lori Costanzo, he previously denied any wrongdoing.

CSU retained James Borchers, a physician and president of the U.S. Council for Athletes’ Health, as an expert witness in the investigation, and he determined Shaw’s treatments were “improper” and “questionable in the most conservative manner.”

“There is no reasonable evidence or explanation for the actions of the athletic trainer described in this report,” Borchers wrote in a four-page analysis as part of the preliminary findings. “The treatments, behavior of the athletic trainer and consistent pattern associated with both as described by the student-athletes are at the very least unethical and disturbing.”

Both the DOJ and FBI have launched investigations related to Shaw’s conduct, people who have spoken to investigators told USA TODAY. They described the topics they discussed under the condition of anonymity out of concern for jeopardizing an ongoing legal matter.

According to four people, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division is investigating San Jose State’s handling of the allegations in 2010.Two people who spoke with investigators told USA TODAY that the FBI has launched a criminal inquiry into Shaw’s conduct.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: San Jose State trainer sexual abuse case leads to demand for damages