Six former college swimmers have filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, alleging that the university ignored and covered up persistent sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination by former swim coach Chad Cradock.
In the Title IX lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, the swimmers argue university officials failed to respond to misconduct by Cradock, who died by suicide in March 2021, months after resigning as head coach amid an investigation into his behavior.
Cradock inappropriately touched male swimmers, ignored female swimmers and mishandled Title IX complaints, according to a July 11 report written by a Baltimore law firm hired by the university and reviewed by The Baltimore Sun. The investigation by Saul Ewing LLP revealed Cradock created a hostile environment on the swim team and participated in sexual harassment.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has interviewed swimmers as part of a probe into the school’s compliance with federal rules barring gender discrimination. A UMBC spokesperson said Thursday that the Justice Department investigation is ongoing.
“UMBC was more than just complicit in Cradock’s misdeeds, in that its leadership ignored, covered up [and] minimized his misconduct,” the lawsuit filed Wednesday says. “UMBC knew that Cradock was a danger to its student-athletes but did nothing to stop it.”
Specifically, UMBC attorneys in the school’s Title IX office “knew of Cradock’s conduct since at least 2019, and failed to take any action,” according to the lawsuit.
The university granted Cradock control over swimmers’ scholarships and team membership, giving him “almost unlimited power over students’ lives” and the ability to hand out discipline without oversight, the lawsuit says.
The UMBC spokesperson, Angela Schaeffer, declined Thursday to comment on Wednesday’s filing, saying the university does not comment on active litigation.
The plaintiffs, three women and three men identified by their initials, are current and former UMBC students who were members of the swim team between 2017 and 2022. The Sun does not typically name victims of sexual abuse.
The lawsuit says the university began investigating Cradock and ordered him not to contact the plaintiffs around November 2020. However, according to the lawsuit, UMBC failed to enforce the order or reprimand Cradock for violating it, exposing the six plaintiffs to “continued abuse, harassment, discrimination and retaliation.”
In April, U.S. District Judge Julie R. Rubin dismissed a separate lawsuit filed in September from a female swimmer who said UMBC failed to protect her when she reported an abusive relationship with a teammate, writing that the statute of limitations for her claims had expired. That swimmer’s attorney, Rignal Baldwin V of Baltimore-based Baldwin | Seraina, filed a motion to reconsider in that case in May.
Baldwin also is representing the swimmers in the lawsuit filed Wednesday, along with Jeffrey P. Bowman and Lucas Van Deusen of the Annapolis firm Bowman Jarashow Law LLC.
According to Wednesday’s suit, the three male plaintiffs were repeatedly groped and sexually harassed by Cradock, who touched or tried to touch their genitals or buttocks.
“Cradock was so bold as to demand to see male swimmers’ genitals in the locker room,” the lawsuit says.
Cradock groped one male swimmer after faking a shoulder injury and asking the student to check his shoulder, the lawsuit alleges. Another male plaintiff was groped on the pool deck.
An unspoken “quid pro quo” existed for swimmers on the team, who were rewarded for ignoring Cradock’s behavior and punished if they did not, the lawsuit said.
“This forced swimmers to make a choice: complain and be punished or tolerate the behavior and receive meaningful coaching and assistance,” the lawsuit says.
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Meanwhile, Cradock favored male swimmers over female swimmers and denied the women coaching and attention, the lawsuit claims, while punishing them more harshly for infractions like drinking alcohol.
Cradock also made biased comments about women, asking a male swimmer who had been accused of assault why he always slept with “the crazy ones,” referring to a female swimmer “who had been beaten severely by a male swimmer,” the lawsuit says. He also asked a female swimmer with bruises if she had “upset” her boyfriend, according to the lawsuit.
The female swimmers suing UMBC argue they were exposed to a hostile environment where they witnessed the sexual harassment of male swimmers. UMBC “covered up” one female swimmer’s encounter with a stalker that was reported to Cradock, the lawsuit says, and the coach only accused female swimmers of faking injuries.
UMBC also interfered in the Title IX process, according to the lawsuit, by discouraging swimmers from making reports.
Attorneys for the school failed to follow up on reports of inappropriate contact by Cradock and evidence of dating violence among swimmers, the lawsuit says.
An athletic trainer said UMBC refused to coach swimmers who “broke the code of silence” on the team and encouraged other swimmers to ignore or “think negatively” about them, according to the lawsuit. Without identifying an individual, the lawsuit says the university used threats to forbid interaction between students on the swim team and the university’s Title IX office.
Each plaintiff is requesting monetary damages and attorney’s fees.