Exactly one year after his discharge from San Jose State University after defying orders to discipline the whistleblower in a sexual abuse case, the former assistant sports director is suing for wrongful termination and retaliation.
Steve O’Brien is seeking more than $ 25,000 in damages in his lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Santa Clara County Superior Court. The defendants include the school’s trustees and O’Brien’s former boss, SJSU sports director Marie Tuite. The lawsuit follows a letter of intent that O’Brien filed in September.
O’Brien alleges Tuite instructed him to reprimand swim coach Sage Hopkins for dubious reasons when the coach resumed allegations of sexual abuse of 17 female swimmers a decade ago against Scott Shaw, the San Jose state director of sports medicine who resigned in August showed up. USA TODAY first reported the allegations in April.
The lawsuit also states that Tuite O’Brien ordered the discipline of compliance director David Rasmussen, who had just investigated two prominent athletes for violating NCAA rules.
O’Brien has since accepted a position as Senior Assistant Dean of External Relations at the Santa Clara University School of Law.
“O’Brien was fined for doing the right thing,” Tamarah Prevost, an attorney for O’Brien, said in a statement. “He stood up for those who tried to protect abused student athletes and it cost him his job.”
The state of San Jose and the CSU system did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Tuite didn’t respond to a call and text message asking for a comment.
O’Brien’s lawsuit comes four days after a series of Title IX investigations overseen by the California State University System found Shaw responsible for sexual misconduct. He has inappropriately touched at least six swimmers and possibly others, according to Shounak Dharap, a lawyer representing some of the women.
At least 13 SJSU athletes, including two current athletes, testified that Shaw massaged her breasts and groin, often under her underwear, when seeking treatment for other parts of the body.
The State of San Jose reviewed the swimmers’ allegations in 2010, but cleared Shaw of malpractice, stating that his treatments – which he called “pressure point” or “trigger point” therapy – were a scientific and accepted treatment for muscle injuries . Eleven years later, private attorneys performing the new probes found that Shaw’s treatments were unmedical, ignored the correct protocols, and violated the system’s sexual harassment guidelines.
San Jose State resumed its investigation into Shaw in December 2019 after Hopkins distributed a nearly 300-page document among officials from the University, Mountain West, and the NCAA detailing the allegations, the school’s response, and his allegations Retaliation against him and his team were listed for reporting and have to be reported again. Two months later, Hopkins raised concerns about the quality of the new investigation, accusing Tuite and senior sports director Eileen Daley of covering up evidence he presented to them.
That chain of events sparked O’Brien’s illegal shooting, the lawsuit states.
A “no win choice”
Shortly after Hopkins raised these concerns, Tuite O’Brien ordered the swim coach to be disciplined. The reason: Hopkins had sent Daley an email allegedly expressing “aggression” and making her feel unsafe, according to the lawsuit. Tuite has delegated duty to O’Brien, the lawsuit says, because their role in the Title IX investigation was a conflict of interest.
“Instead of risking that she actively disrupts the investigation against her, she ordered O’Brien to take revenge on Hopkins on her behalf,” the lawsuit said.
When O’Brien asked about the emails, San Jose State’s senior associate vice president of human resources, Joanne Wright, refused to provide them, the lawsuit said. O’Brien said he emphasized his concern that Hopkins’ discipline could be construed as retaliation against a whistleblower, but Wright responded by asking O’Brien if he was refusing to do his job.
O’Brien said he “understood immediately that SJSU was giving him the choice of disciplining Hopkins on Tuite’s behalf and taking revenge on a whistleblower, or refusing to follow Tuite’s direction and appearing inappropriately.” O’Brien reported his concern to the office of the General Counsel of the CSU system, but received no response.
O’Brien eventually carried out Tuite’s orders in a February 2020 meeting with Wright, Hopkins, and his union representative. But under pressure from Hopkins, O’Brien admitted the disciplinary action could be interpreted as retaliation, the lawsuit said. O’Brien said Wright then abruptly ended the meeting, accusing him and Hopkins of collusion.
Later that month, Tuite stripped O’Brien of all duties other than fundraising and banned him from participating in the Mountain West women’s basketball tournament he had planned and coordinated, the lawsuit said. Two days later, Tuite released him, saying only that he had not met [her] Expectations. “
“The reality is that O’Brien would not participate in Tuute’s cover-up and she subsequently fired him,” the lawsuit said.
O’Brien appealed the decision to Tuite and then to San Jose President Mary Papazian, who both refused to overturn it.
O’Brien’s dismissal also contributed to his opposition to Tuite’s separate order to discipline Rasmussen, the compliance director who stepped down from San Jose state in December. Today he is the director of athletics at Brigham Young University.
In late 2019 and early 2020, Rasmussen separately investigated allegations that one athlete had completed more than 170 sports bets and another athlete smoked marijuana in violation of NCAA rules. After initially agreeing to Rasmussen’s investigation, Tuite later turned on his “trial” after receiving complaints from the parents of the first athlete and the coach of the second athlete.
In January of this year, O’Brien expressed concern to Wright about “a culture of retaliation for regulatory compliance within the sports department,” citing these and other examples, the lawsuit said. Two days later, Tuite urged O’Brien to deliver a negative performance review of Rasmussen, which O’Brien believed was unjustified and in retaliation.
O’Brien wrote to Wright again, saying that he was “directed by Marie [Tuite] include in the assessment something that I believe is factually incorrect. “He also raised concerns about other top administrators, including Papazian’s Chief of Staff Lisa Millora, and the San Jose State Offices of General Counsel and the CSU system.
O’Brien says it was clear that Tuite and the State of San Jose saw him as “on the” side “of two whistleblowers, Rasmussen and Hopkins, and fired him for doing so.
“Steve O’Brien was trying to protect a lawsuit that would find out the truth about what happened at SJSU,” Christopher Boscia, another attorney who represents him, said in a statement. “He tried to give a voice to those who went unheard for too long. Instead of firing him, SJSU should have thanked him for helping these student athletes and coaches. ”
In January, a separate investigation into the CSU system found that Tuite was responsible for retaliation against Hopkins by instructing his manager to give him a low rating for his 2020 performance review based on his reporting of the allegations to outside agencies, according to a copy of the investigation Notice US received TODAY. Tuite has the option to appeal the finding.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division is also investigating the university’s handling of the allegations in 2010, four people who spoke to investigators told USA TODAY. People described the issues they discussed on condition of anonymity out of concern that an ongoing legal case would be jeopardized. Sportico first reported the existence of the investigation.
The FBI also opened a criminal investigation into Shaw’s behavior, with two people speaking to investigators confirming it. You spoke anonymously to USA TODAY for the same reasons. The FBI press office declined to comment.