A former Florida university track and field coach "fat shamed" and bullied a runner with learning disabilities before she committed suicide, according to a lawsuit.
Julia Pernsteiner was a 23-year-old student at Jacksonville University in Florida. She had learning disabilities and was diagnosed with ADHD, severe dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. Julia was "emotionally young for her chronological age," and had "limited coping skills," according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit said Pernsteiner struggled academically and was ridiculed.
Pernsteiner was a student-athlete on the university's track and field team.
In September 2021, Julia was thrown off the cross-country team. The next month, Pernsteiner allegedly emailed Jacksonville University's athletic director to ask why she was let go from the track and field team.
"I'm a walk-on, so it's not about the money," she wrote in the email, according to Fox News. "I just don't know where to go from here. I would like to stay and work on improving my grades. I just am not able to do it myself. I’m looking for advice on how to proceed."
She did not receive a response.
"Julia’s frustration spiraled into desperation and depression," the suit stated.
On Nov. 8, 2021, Pernsteiner was found dead in her dorm room after she committed suicide.
"For 22 months prior to her death Julia suffered pain, mental anguish, panic attacks, fear, and depression," the complaint said.
The lawsuit alleged that Pernsteiner's track coach, Ronald E. Grigg, Jr., bullied the young woman.
"Teammates recall Ron Grigg taking a special satisfaction in humiliating Julia, referring to her as 'retarded,' 'the slowest f***ing runner on the team' and unable to 'wipe your own a**,'" the lawsuit claimed.
Grigg, who had been employed by Jacksonville University since 1998, was accused of having "an affinity for picking one or two people out each year to bully."
Other teammates said Grigg was "oppressive, threatening, bullying, condescending and demeaning to many of the young women on the team," according to the lawsuit. Some said Grigg regularly "fat shamed" female runners and demanded that they keep their body mass index under 10%. According to the American Council on Exercise, female athletes should have a BMI between 14% and 20%.
The lawsuit claimed, "Despite knowledge of Grigg’s outrageous and illegal behavior toward women on his teams, [Jacksonville University] acquiesced and condoned that conduct as long as Grigg was coaching winning teams."
A graduate student claimed that Grigg told her, "You should come over to my place for drinks, but don’t accuse me of that Me Too s**t." The same student described Grigg as a "monster," according to the lawsuit.
The university launched an investigation into Grigg.
Grigg resigned in July 2022.
Jacksonville University said at the time of Grigg's resignation, "All of our coaches and staff also will complete additional mandatory training involving mental health issues … including body image, nutrition, bullying and building a healthy, supportive team culture."
Julia's parents, Ray and Lynne Pernsteiner, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Jacksonville University and Grigg on Feb. 3, 2023.
Law & Crime reported, "Separately, they also brought claims for gender-based discrimination under Title IX, disability-based discrimination under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and breach of contract for the school’s failure to live up to its promised 504 plan."
The lawsuit demanded a jury trial and unspecified monetary damages.
Jacksonville University issued a statement in response to the lawsuit, "The students, faculty, and staff of Jacksonville University continue to mourn Julia’s tragic death and we sympathize with the Pernsteiner family for their loss. Per University policy, we do not comment on pending litigation."
Lawsuit over former JU runner's suicide claims Title IX, ADA violations, complaints ignoredwww.youtube.com
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