Niagara swimmers sue over sexual harassment

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Three members of Niagara University's women's swimming and diving teams allege they were sexually harassed and bullied by members of the men's swim team in a lawsuit filed against the school.

They also allege men's and women's team coach Ben Nigro made sexual remarks, ridiculed them for lodging complaints and failed to take appropriate action.

The lawsuit was filed last week in Buffalo district court by current swim team member Nastassja Posso, former swimmer Jaime Rolf and a former diver listed as Jane Doe.

The suit alleges Nigro encouraged the women to "simply ignore derogatory language used by male swimmers." The women were allegedly subjected to gender-based harassment, including being body-shamed during joint practices, ranked by physical appearance and called vulgar names.

The private Catholic school based in Lewiston, New York, issued a statement saying it is aware of the lawsuit and investigating the complaints.

"We proceed with due diligence to examine any issue that is brought forward that may compromise our culture, while ensuring we do not rush to judgment or reach conclusions before the completion of the process," the school said in the statement.

The three swimmers have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression as a result of the harassment, the suit said. Rolf gave up her scholarship, left the program in 2018 and has since reenrolled at Niagara but is not on the swim team.

No action has been taken against Nigro, who enters his 14th season as coach.

Nigro allegedly referred to the male swimmers' comments as "immaturity," saying "90% is how you react and 10% is what they do" and "boys will be boys."

"The harassment was primarily verbal as opposed to physical conduct," the suit said. It alleged Doe was once intentionally pushed into a bush by a male swimmer. Doe was also subject to a lewd nickname by a swimmer while on the pool deck with the coach present.

The suit blames the school for failing to train its staff regarding gender-based harassment and "failing to properly supervise and discipline the swimming coach based on past complaints." It also alleges Niagara was negligent for "retaining the swimming coach after credible complaints of misconduct were made against him."

The lawsuit says the university violated Title IX federal law and NCAA rules by not treating the women's team equally regarding coaching and equipment.

Nigro is assisted by diving coach Josh Larcom. The last female assistant coach quit in 2016 because of poor pay, the suit says. Aspects of the coed team setup "permitted, fostered and created a hostile environment."

In 2016, Doe made a formal complaint to an assistant athletic director regarding Nigro, the suit said. She informed Nigro of hearing about a male swimmer having sex with a female recruit, but the coach responded with a dismissive comment.

The suit also claims the university delayed conducting a Title IX investigation of a formal complaint filed in December 2018, dragging it out until some of the accused male swimmers graduated.

Niagara coaches and athletic staff are mandatory reporters of sexual harassment under Title IX, the suit says, and schools have a "responsibility to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students."