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Baltimore County

Female swimmer sues UMBC alleging repeated failure to act when she reported harassment and sexual abuse

Two months after an internal investigation confirmed reports of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination by University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s former head swim coach, a female swimmer sued the university Wednesday, alleging school officials repeatedly failed to protect her after she reported an abusive relationship with a male teammate.

UMBC officials instead sought to downplay her suffering because they hoped to avoid a scandal involving dating violence among swimmers, argues the lawsuit filed in Baltimore’s federal court.

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The young woman who filed the suit against UMBC has graduated.

Central to her complaint is Chad Cradock, a longtime UMBC swim coach who died by suicide in March 2021 amid a widening investigation into allegations he inappropriately touched male swimmers, discriminated against female teammates and mishandled Title IX reports — instances of alleged sexual misconduct or gender-based discrimination prohibited under federal law. Cradock resigned from his coaching position a few months before his death.

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The UMBC investigation, conducted by outside attorneys hired by the university, found Cradock engaged in sexual harassment and created a hostile environment, in violation of the university’s discrimination policy, according to an investigative report finished July 11 and obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

The report specifically details the situation outlined in the new lawsuit as one example of misconduct.

Swimmers also have been interviewed in recent months by U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigators probing questions of compliance with federal rules barring gender discrimination in education. The exact scope of that federal investigation is unclear.

According to the new lawsuit, the female swimmer received an athletic scholarship and enrolled at UMBC in fall 2017, when she was assigned a freshman dorm room that she shared with a teammate.

A male swimmer, also a freshman, lived in the same dorm. The two began a romantic relationship, which quickly turned violent, the complaint says.

The alleged abuse included coercing the victim into having sex against her will, stalking her to and from her dorm room and classes, contacting her incessantly and threatening suicide in an attempt to control her, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiff, “who was in the first adult relationship of her life, was terrified, alone, and helpless,” the complaint says.

The Sun typically does not name victims of sexual abuse. The suit only identifies her alleged abuser by his initials.

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The female swimmer tried to end the relationship and, in March 2018, reported the abuse to the university during a meeting in Cradock’s office, according to the complaint. But university officials did not step in to help her. Instead, a university representative told her they “didn’t want this to be a mess on the team,” the complaint says, without naming the speaker.

Several months would pass before Cradock contacted a Title IX coordinator about the allegations, but even then, the university failed to help her, according to the lawsuit.

A UMBC spokesperson said Wednesday that university officials learned about a potential court filing from the media but hadn’t been served and couldn’t comment on the case itself.

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

According to the lawsuit, university officials took no action to discipline the alleged abuser or advise the victim of her rights, such as interim protective measures to keep her safe and other reporting opportunities to local law enforcement and the UMBC Title IX Office.

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UMBC Police reviewed the male swimmer’s text conversations with the plaintiff after his behavior was reported by another student. Police brought the male swimmer to the hospital for an involuntary psychiatric evaluation, saying he presented a danger to himself or others, the complaint says.

Yet the alleged abuse continued and the plaintiff ended up staying on a friend’s couch because she was scared to remain in her dorm, the suit said. When the plaintiff reported the continued harassing messages to the university, she was told to forward the messages to her coach, who would “ghostwrite her responses to her abuser,” according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiff also alleges that she missed mandatory training sessions because of the stress, and Cradock responded by threatening to revoke her scholarship. She alleges he told her things would “get worse” for her if she reported the alleged abuse to the Title IX Office.

Then, Cradock called the plaintiff into his office without explanation and forced her into a surprise meeting with her abuser, the lawsuit claims.

The investigative report completed in July said Cradock “tried to mediate the matter himself.”

While swimmers said Cradock would engage in routine sexual harassment of male swimmers — including touching their genitals, giving them hugs from behind while they were wearing just Speedos and attempting kisses — he disengaged with the women’s team, according to the report.

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Female students described a lack of attention at practices, less sympathetic treatment for injuries and different enforcement of team rules, including consequences for drinking.

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In June 2018 — three months after the plaintiff first reported the abuse — Cradock sent a memorandum to the university’s Title IX coordinator, who sent the student an email in response “but took no other action,” the lawsuit says.

The suit also accuses UMBC leadership of giving Cradock outsized authority, saying he controlled “virtually every aspect” of his swimmers’ lives.

“For UMBC swimmers, Cradock spoke for UMBC,” the complaint says. “His word was final.”

Attorney Rignal Baldwin V of the law firm Baldwin | Seraina, who represents most of the swimmers named in the investigative report, filed the lawsuit. The plaintiff is seeking monetary damages.

The case comes on the heels of a pending settlement agreement in another protracted legal fight over how Baltimore County officials handled reports of sexual assault against UMBC students in 2017. Baldwin also represents the plaintiff in that case. Her claim stemmed from a broader class-action lawsuit in which five female students accused county authorities and UMBC officials of mishandling their complaints, bias against women and systemic indifference to sexual violence.

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A judge threw out most claims in the original suit, including all against UMBC, but the allegations prompted outcry on the university’s campus in 2018, including a march to the administration building where students confronted the university president, a series of demands and a student-led town hall.

That, in turn, led to three 2019 reports containing more than 100 recommendations from outside consultants, a student task force, and a group of faculty and staff members. The office has implemented some of the recommendations and is working on others.


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