University denies claims in student lawsuit


Chloe Forbes, Editor-in-Chief

Gannon University women’s wrestling coach Christen Dierken has been dropped as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by former Gannon student-athlete Kayla O’Brien, whose amended complaint now focuses solely on the university.

Gannon’s answer and defenses to O’Brien’s amended complaint alleging mental and emotional abuse were filed last week in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Danielle Dietrich, O’Brien’s attorney, said that the decision to terminate Dierken from O’Brien’s complaint was strictly a legal move rather than a substantive change to the case.

“Gannon, as a religious private school can avoid application of the law known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title II, because of its status as a private institution,” Dietrich said. “Gannon indicated to us in writing that it intended to assert that it was not subject to the Title II of the ADA, and Gannon’s assertion of that defense is the sole reason that the ADA claims were removed.  The change is not in any way a reflection of the coach’s responsibility in this case.  She was acting as Gannon’s agent, and Gannon will be legally responsible for her actions.”

Gannon is now being taken to court for three counts of abuse rather than five. These include disability discrimination and retaliation in violation of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and breach of contract.

Gannon admitted to basic facts such as the university’s location, hiring Dierken as head women’s wrestling coach, along with recruiting and providing financial assistance to O’Brien, as well as recognizing that O’Brien informed Dierken of her health.

The university denies that any of O’Brien’s health impairments are actual disabilities though and as a result, denies any discrimination toward said disabilities.

The university also admitted to receiving complaints from O’Brien’s parents, a safety complaint filed by O’Brien herself and a complaint filed by a trainer directed at O’Brien.

Other claims were either denied, or Gannon denies O’Brien’s written interpretations of the events, including emotional abuse.

Among the accusations that Gannon denied is one in which the plaintiff said in response to her confession of underage drinking, Dierken required O’Brien to plead her case to her teammates.

The amended complaint also alleges that Dierken further required the team to vote on what O’Brien’s sanctions should be, a situation of public humiliation and shaming that no other team members have had to go through, previously or since.

Gannon denies the allegations.

Dietrich said the next step is the discovery phase, which means that, among other things, Gannon will be required to provide evidence and documents related to its treatment of O’Brien, the wrestling program and treatment among other athletes. Gannon will also have to make its witnesses available for sworn testimony.


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