A Menlo-Atherton High School student is suing the Sequoia Union High School District, district administrators, the M-A athletic director and a wrestling coach for alleged retaliation against her and her father after they complained about "disturbing behavior" by a wrestling coach at the school.
Senior Kiernan Dunn filed a lawsuit on Nov. 9 in San Mateo County Superior Court, updating and amending it on Nov. 19. The suit alleges that the district retaliated against her because she filed a Title IX complaint on Aug. 22. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in educational activities that receive federal funding.
The lawsuit also alleges that Kiernan's father, Kevin Dunn, who was a volunteer wrestling coach at M-A, was the victim of retaliation after he complained about the behavior and coaching practices of another coach, Cliff Olson.
The lawsuit outlines the "disturbing behavior" by M-A wrestling coaches that Kiernan and her father say they observed and objected to.
One example: Olson, according to the lawsuit, made wrestlers blindfold themselves before practicing the "most dangerous moves in wrestling." This caused one student to fracture his neck, the suit states.
Kevin Dunn had complained to M-A wrestling coach Phil Hoang and coach Daniel Williams, stating that blindfolding student athletes was "very dangerous" and a student could get hurt, but the two coaches ignored his complaints, according to the suit.
Olson, the Dunns had complained, also made racist and sexist comments, which led several wrestlers to quit the team, according to the lawsuit. The "offensive" sexist comments made Kiernan and other girls on the team uncomfortable, the suit states.
After Kevin Dunn complained to coaches about Olson's behavior, Olson threatened him with physical violence at a wrestling practice, the lawsuit asserts.
The school investigated Olson's conduct and fired him, according to the lawsuit. The district did not respond to questions about whether Olson was or is employed by the district.
The district "very recently received this complaint and is reviewing it and preparing a response," said district spokesman Rolando Bonilla in a prepared statement.
"That said, the district is confident that it responded appropriately to the matters that are raised in the complaint," he said.
According to the lawsuit, Hoang, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, "immediately retaliated" against Kevin Dunn after the complaints were made, not allowing him to coach the girls team.
Hoang also invited Olson to continue to attend games, including a CCS (Central Coast Section) tournament, which made Kiernan uncomfortable, the suit states. At the same tournament, Hoang approached Kevin Dunn while he was sitting with the girls team, yelled "get up," and pushed him, the lawsuit asserts.
Another matter alleged in the lawsuit: Hoang asked female wrestlers during the summer of 2018 to report their weight to him every week during off-season, the suit states. Hoang retaliated against Kiernan by excluding her from all team emails and she didn't know about a team event after she complained about the questions about weight, the suit states.
The suit calls the student wrestler weight requests "entirely inappropriate and abusive" and a "violation of CCS rules."
But CCS bylaws only restrict male weigh masters and/or male officials from conducting or being present at female weigh-ins. This does not apply if wrestlers are weighing in wearing their uniform. If a skin inspection or any other type of test that requires the removal of the uniform is necessary, such procedures are to be done in a place where only same-gender supervisory personnel are present.
CCS bylaws also "go silent" during the summer months, said CCS Commissioner Duane Morgan.
"The only thing you can't do is practice contact football or recruit," Morgan said. "You always ask questions, but you can't have practices outside of the season."
The lawsuit claims that, despite the Dunn family's concerns about the wrestling coach's behavior and a promise by M-A Athletic Director Steven Kryger to arrange a meeting with Hoang, the Dunns and the school's vice principal about the Dunns' complaints, Kryger failed to schedule the meeting.
Kryger is also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit. In addition to him, Hoang, and the district itself, other defendants are: District Superintendent Mary Streshly, M-A Principal Simone Rick-Kennel, and M-A Vice Principal Stephen Emmi.
A district investigation into Kiernan's Title IX complaint has not been completed, so Kiernan has missed two weeks of wrestling practices so far, the suit states. Kiernan is not listed on the roster on the M-A wrestling team's website.
Kiernan is seeking damages and asking that her father be made a coach of both the boys and girls wrestling teams. The suit asks to remove Hoang as wrestling coach.
The wrestling program
M-A has boys junior varsity, boys varsity, girls junior varsity and girls varsity wrestling teams. Wrestling runs during the winter season.
Hoang coached both the boys and girls programs for the past few years and, following the success of the girls program, the school decided to hire a separate coach for the boys team, according to the Palo Alto Weekly. This fall, Hoang moved to coaching the girls team. M-A is the two-time defending CCS champion.
In four years, Hoang went from coaching one female wrestler to nearly 20. He has coached a state champion (Chelsea Wilson), a state runner-up (Fola Akinola) and several other state qualifiers, according to the Palo Alto Weekly.
The lawsuit can be viewed here.
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