The California Lutheran University softball team is suing their own school for what it says are false accusations of racism against the softball players and coaches over a team bonding event.
The event is a bonding night that took place in January 2020 that involved costumes and skits, a team tradition after their so-called “hell week.” Players wore “facial hair makeup to disguise themselves as males,” the lawsuit said. “Three of these young women wore hats, and two wore Caucasian male wigs (i.e., Napoleon Dynamite costume wigs).”
Pictures and videos of the event were posted on the team’s Instagram, causing a member of the university to charge it was blackface. The playful and lighthearted activity was wrongly deemed racist, says the lawsuit. DeAnn Young, the coach who supervised the event, is African American.
The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Michael Saltz and Elana Levine this summer, appears to still be pending.
The charges in the suit include breach of contract, slander, libel and emotional distress. While only five members of the team participated in the skit, the clients of the suit include all 24 members of the softball team and 2019-20 softball coaches Debby Day, Young, and Jason Gluckman.
The team planned to take a Texas trip following the bonding activities for away games, but it was canceled and the coaches were put on administrative leave pending an investigation. Students on campus also pushed back, the California Lutheran University newspaper, The Echo, reported.
Then-President of California Lutheran University Chris Kimball and Vice-President Melissa Maxwell-Doherty further criticized the softball team as racist to both local and national press, says the suit.
But the university did not stop there. Officials of the school “allowed the softball team and their coaches to be publicly shamed and harassed, placed in fear for their safety, and to otherwise suffer lifelong injury to their mental health and reputations,” the lawsuit says. The attacks the team faced caused players to need mental health support.
In response to the university’s actions, the suit calls for California Lutheran to be “held accountable for their gender inequality, for the damage they have unnecessarily caused to be inflicted on the 24 members of the Softball Team (19 of which did not take part in the performance at issue), and for the hostile work environment and constructive firing it inflicted upon the Softball Team’s coaching staff.”