NASHVILLE (CN) - Three sisters can advance claims that their high school stymied an investigation into "cornholing" sexual assaults carried out their basketball coach's daughter, a federal judge ruled.
The three girls - referred to anonymously as Jane, June and Sally Doe - played on the basketball team at Siegel High School in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
They allege that the daughter of coach Alan Bush "sexually assaulted them by placing her finger in or near their rectums or vaginas without their consent during and after practice on multiple occasions," according to the ruling.
Students referred to this practice as "cornholing," and it was done as an initiation ritual, the ruling states. One Siegel student testified that cornholing also took place on the soccer and volleyball teams.
An alleged assault by the coach's daughter, called Jane Roe, on Nov. 2, 2012, prompted the girls' father to call the coach and report the harassment.
"Jane Doe went home upset and crying," the ruling states. "She reported the cornholing incident to her father that night, after which the other two Doe sisters told him that Jane Roe had also attempted to cornhole them. John Doe reported the incidents to Coach Bush that night, indicating that the Doe sisters felt violated by Jane Roe's conduct. ... Coach Bush verbally reprimanded his daughter, grounded her for a month, and had her apologize to the Doe sisters the next day. He otherwise took no disciplinary action, did not inform the team about the incidents (at least with any degree of specificity), and did not report the incident to school officials." (Parentheses in original.)
The cornholing stopped but June Doe was allegedly the victim of "slicing the cheese" - "whereby a student 'slices' her hand between a student's buttock cheeks" - in March 2013. She reported it to school administration, but they could not figure out who was "slicing" her so they allowed her to leave each class five minutes early to avoid the harassment.
Siegel Principal Jason Bridgeman first learned of the cornholing incidents when the girls' mother took issue with Jane Roe being named captain of the basketball team and she decided to report the harassment.
Assistant Principal Renee Martin allegedly "told the Doe sisters that they should 'keep the issue quiet' and 'not let this get out' because it would give SHS a 'bad name.' [She said] Siegel High School is a 'family' and 'we have to protect the Siegel nation,'" the ruling states.
Jane and June Doe left Siegel in February 2013 and received their home school diplomas that May. Sally transferred to another school.
The Does pressed charges against Jane Roe and sued the Rutherford County Board of Education for discrimination and retaliation under Title IX.
U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger refused to dismiss the claims against the board on Monday, citing what appears to be "a remarkably slow and ineffectual response by SHS and the RCBE to allegations of sexual harassment."
"In [other] instances, the school seemed to 'bring the hammer down' on acts of harassment that were arguably equivalent to or less serious than the harassment experienced by the Doe sisters," the judge wrote. "In light of these examples, a jury could conclude that, by (arguably) slow-walking its investigations and giving Jane Roe only a private 'slap on the wrist,' SHS and the RCBE essentially attempted to sweep Jane Roe's conduct under the rug because of her and her father's connections within the school and the athletic department." (Parentheses in original.)
Though "the defendant has legitimate grounds to contest the substantiality of the claims by some or of all the Doe sisters," the case will go to trial regardless, according to the 37-page ruling.