LSU Athletics administrator alleges more racism, sexism in department, USA TODAY reports

Sharon Lewis says she was punished for complaining about racist, sexist behavior

By: - April 6, 2021 3:09 pm
Tiger Stadium

LSU’s Tiger Stadium (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue / Louisiana Illuminator)

LSU Athletics officials harassed Sharon Lewis, the school’s associate director of football recruiting, when she complained about racist and sexist behavior, particularly behavior coming from former LSU football Coach Les Miles, according to reporting from the USA TODAY newspaper.

Attorneys for Lewis said they plan to file a federal Title IX lawsuit, a state whistleblower lawsuit, an Equal Employment Opportunity grievance and a civil lawsuit under the federal RICO statute used for organized crimes, according to USA TODAY. She’s accusing several LSU officials of covering up alleged sex misconduct as well as going along with racist and sexist policies. 

Lewis’ pursuit of an organized crime charge is relevant, since members of the Louisiana Legislature’s Women’s Caucus have also repeatedly referred to LSU’s athletic department as resembling an organized crime ring recently.

The university has been engulfed in a scandal over how the school has handled rape and other sexual misconduct as well as domestic violence.

A number of the sexual misconduct cases that LSU botched have involved allegations against football players. High-ranking people in the athletics department either ignored or did not report multiple allegations of rape, domestic violence and other misconduct allegedly carried out by members of the football team and Miles.

A March report from Husch Blackwell law firm — which LSU hired to investigate sexual misconduct allegations included in previous USA TODAY stories —  had suggested Lewis was mistreated by officials in the athletics department.

But Lewis has provided more details about the retaliation she said she experienced when she didn’t want to go along with the allegedly racist and sexist actions of Miles and other athletics officials.

Here are the new details about allegations concerning sexual misconduct and racism within the Athletics Department from USA TODAY’s interview with Lewis:

Miles did not want Black women students working for the football program, Lewis says

Lewis told USA TODAY that Miles put pressure on her to replace the Black female students who worked for her in the football recruiting office with Black female students who had lighter skin or were white and blond. Lewis, a Black woman, considered Miles’ requests racist.

She said Miles, a white man, came to her office and told her the football team had “too many fat girls, Black girls and ugly girls” — working for the team. He was referring to students who worked with the football recruiting services that Lewis oversaw. Miles’ denies the claims made by Lewis, according to USA TODAY.

The Husch Blackwell report had previously detailed allegations against Miles that showed he had a preference for blond, white female student workers, but Lewis’ new description to USA TODAY contains new allegations that Miles specifically wanted Black female student workers terminated.

Lewis says that other athletics officials pressured her to go along with Miles demands

Other people in the athletics department were willing to go along with Miles’ request for fewer Black female student workers — or at least more light-skinned Black female student workers, according to Lewis.

She told USA TODAY that former running backs coach Frank Wilson and former director of player personnel Sherman Morris told Lewis to hire fewer Black women student workers or — at the very  least — Black women student workers who had lighter skin.

Verge Ausberry — an athletics administrator that’s already been punished for mishandling a domestic violence case — also told Lewis she used to hire prettier girls, specifically referring to a white woman who used to be a student worker, Lewis told USA TODAY. She said Ausberry told her to focus more on her job and not Miles’ comments about the appearances of female student workers.

Ausberry, Wilson and Morris are Black men. Morris was arrested on domestic violence charges while working for Arizona State University’s football team after leaving LSU.

Miles started interviewing women student workers on his own at night, Lewis says

Lewis alleges that Ausberry and compliance director Bo Bahnsen gave Miles the green light to interview women student workers without any one else present over Lewis’ objections.

The Husch Blackwell report had previously made it clear that Miles had an interest in interviewing female student workers, but never mentioned athletics officials might have allowed him to do so. 

Lewis said the women students told Lewis that Miles asked them about their sex lives during the interviews. Miles, according to USA TODAY, has denied these allegations.

Les Miles
Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers celebrates after defeating the Texas A&M Aggies 19-7 at Tiger Stadium on November 28, 2015, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

A student said Miles ‘got on top of her’ in his office, Lewis says

A woman student said Miles “got on top of her in his office on his couch,” Lewis told USA TODAY. After the allegation got reported, Lewis said Miriam Segar — another athletics official recently reprimanded for mishandling rape allegations against a football player  — told Lewis that the student accusing Miles of assault could no longer work for the football team. Segar recommended that the student be moved out of the athletics department building altogether, Lewis said. 

These are new details about a set of allegations that had gone public against Miles. Though the allegations of sexual misconduct were disclosed previously, it was not clear what the student said had happened between her and Miles.

Lewis was denied a raise when she didn’t hire attractive enough girls, she says

Lewis says athletics officials went along with Miles’ plan to withhold a raise from her because she hadn’t hired women student workers he thought were pretty enough. When she complained to Ausberry, he responded that Lewis should look for another job, she told USA TODAY.

Miles also told Lewis to fire a male student worker because he “looked gay,” she said. Miles has denied all these allegations.

She said she was harassed so frequently by Miles that she started hiding under her desk when he came by her office. 

Officials previously reprimanded — Segar and Ausberry — mistreated Lewis, she says

Lewis said Ausberry and Segar — who were temporarily suspended for not handling rape and domestic violence allegations properly — also made her life and job at LSU Athletics difficult overall.

LSU President Tom Galligan put Segar and Ausberry on temporary leave for three and four weeks for failing to report rape allegations and domestic violence following the release of the Husch Blackwell report.

Segar purposefully left former LSU football star Derrius Guice’s name off a report about a rape allegation made against him because she was concerned it would be subject to a public records request, she told Husch Blackwell attorneys. Ausberry didn’t tell the university or law enforcement after former football player Drake Davis admitted via text message that Davis had hit a woman with whom Davis had a sexual relationship, according to the report.

Ausberry — as previously reported by the Husch Blackwell law firm — also screamed at Lewis on a regular basis. Additionally, he campaigned against Lewis when she ran for president of the National L Club, LSU’s alumni association for athletes, she told USA TODAY. When she won the election, Ausberry tried to get some of the powers that came with her position taken away from her, she said.

When Lewis complained about Ausberry to Segar, Segar told her she should look for a job somewhere else, Lewis said. 

Lewis says current Athletics Director Scott Woodward refuses to meet with her

Woodward, who has been LSU’s athletics director since 2016, has mostly escaped a lot of blame in the university’s unfolding scandal about violence against women, but in the USA TODAY article, Lewis claims Woodward is part of the problem.

Namely, she said Woodward has refused to hear her complaints about Ausberry’s behavior because Woodward and Ausberry are close friends. Ausberry, Lewis said, has called Woodward his “boy” in conversations with her — implying that Woodward would never believe Lewis’ complaints.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.