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Ex-Northwestern cheerleader sues school for sexual harassment

A former Northwestern University cheerleader is suing the school and demanding a jury trial, claiming she was sexually harassed and even groped by athletic department donors while she and her teammates were ‘presented as sex objects’ at various school fundraising events.

Hayden Richardson, 22, who cheered at Northwestern from 2018 until last year, told Inside Edition that then-Wildcats cheerleading coach Pamela Bonnevier required the squad to ‘mingle’ with intoxicated fans at events without security. 

‘I was taking photos with fans that were grown men and they would put their hands too low,’ Richardson said. ‘Our coach [Bonnevier] condoned that behavior. She put us in these environments where she knew what was going on and she didn’t do anything to stop that.’ 

Bonnevier has not worked at the school since October, Northwestern has confirmed, but it is unclear if these allegations played a factor in her tenure coming to an end. She has not offered a public statement since the lawsuit was filed on January 30.  

Hayden Richardson is demanding a jury trial, claiming she was sexually harassed while cheerleading at Northwestern University between 2018 and 2020

Hayden Richardson, who cheered at Northwestern from 2018 until last year, told Inside Edition that then-Wildcats cheerleading coach Pamela Bonnevier required the squad to 'mingle' with intoxicated fans at events without security. Bonnevier has not worked at the school since October, Northwestern has confirmed, but it is unclear if these allegations played a factor in her tenure coming to an end. She has not offered a public statement since the lawsuit was filed

Hayden Richardson, who cheered at Northwestern from 2018 until last year, told Inside Edition that then-Wildcats cheerleading coach Pamela Bonnevier required the squad to ‘mingle’ with intoxicated fans at events without security. Bonnevier has not worked at the school since October, Northwestern has confirmed, but it is unclear if these allegations played a factor in her tenure coming to an end. She has not offered a public statement since the lawsuit was filed

According to the lawsuit first reported by the Chicago Tribune and obtained by DailyMail.com, the belief was that the cheerleaders were being used to persuade fans to donate money to the athletic department.

‘It became clear to [Richardson] that the cheerleaders were being presented as sex objects to titillate the men that funded the majority of Northwestern’s athletics programs,’ read the lawsuit. ‘After all, the happier these men were, the more money the University would receive from them. The University’s actions made it clear that brains do not bring in large donations, sex does.’

In her lawsuit, Richardson explained she thought she would be kicked off the team if she refused to comply with orders, which could have resulted in her being forced to repay around $10,000 in scholarship money.

When Richardson brought up her concerns to the team, she was told that the cheerleaders needed to seem ‘fun.’

‘At the meeting, Bonnevier spoke to the team about ‘dealing with creepy fans’ and attempted to normalize inappropriate sexual behavior/sexual harassment as simply part of the sport of cheerleading,’ read the lawsuit. ‘She advised the team that that the cheerleaders’ number one priority was keeping the fans happy – they needed to always be ‘”un girls.”

Richardson, 22, thought she would lose her partial scholarship if she reported the sexual harassment she was experiencing

Richardson, 22, thought she would lose her partial scholarship if she reported the sexual harassment she was experiencing 

‘Bonnevier also stated that there are “always those creepy fans, and if they place their hand too low or act uncomfortable, just take the picture and move on.” This ideology of “just take it” permeated the team culture and was consistently reaffirmed by Bonnevier.’

In another incident, Richardson recalled having a sex toy thrown at her during game, saying that Bonnevier found it humorous.

Richardson’s lawsuit also claims that Bonnevier told her and her teammates before a 2018 game in Minnesota that they should not eat because it ‘was more important for the team to look skinny on game day to entice fans and donors.’

Richardson eventually did report the incidents to the athletic department, which she says mishandled the complaint by failing to report it to the Title IX office.

‘It further became evident to [Richardson] that Northwestern’s commitment to supporting victims was a façade to conceal a much uglier reality — Northwestern was willing to silence, and sacrifice the well-being of, its female athletes in order to keep its donors happy,’ read the lawsuit.

In a statement given to the Tribune, the University denied mishandling the complaint.

‘We take all complaints seriously, and we appreciate the courage it takes for anyone in our community to come forward to report potential wrongdoing,’ read the statement ‘In this case, the University’s Office of Equity conducted a lengthy and thorough investigation, following University policies and procedures.’

Richardson is the only current or former Northwestern cheerleader suing the University

Richardson is the only current or former Northwestern cheerleader suing the University 


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