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2 field hockey players sue Seton Hill, coaches, claiming abuse

| Thursday, April 24, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Two field hockey players are suing Seton Hill University in federal court in Pittsburgh, alleging they were subjected to a pattern of emotional, psychological and physical abuse, and that the university failed to investigate their complaints.

Shannon Litvin of Long Island, N.Y., and Lauren Schumacher of Patuxent, Md., allege they were verbally abused and bullied by field hockey coaches dating to 2009, when Schumacher accepted a scholarship to the Greensburg university, according to the lawsuit.

Named as defendants are head coach Whitney Harness and assistants Gillian Hilbert and Joanna Pichardo; acting president Bibiano Boerio; athletic director Christopher Snyder; NCAA compliance officer Bruce Ivory; Title IX compliance officer Darlene Sauers; and Vice President of Affirmative Action Lois Sculco.

Harness, Hilbert and Pichardo did not respond to requests for comment.

Attorney Nancy McGee of Kew Gardens, N.Y., who represents the two students, said she met with university officials last fall to solve the problems, but the school took no corrective measures. She said Harness, Hilbert and Pichardo remain as coaches.

The suit, filed on Wednesday, alleges that the women were subjected to physical punishment, public humiliation and excessive training, which the suits contend is a violation of NCAA rules. Harness forced the team to practice in the dark with the only illumination coming from her car's headlights, the complaint states. The two women claim they were called “losers” in public, mocked for their performance and publicly ridiculed.

According to the lawsuit, Litvin was counseled by a school psychologist. Litvin once passed out during practice and was hospitalized because of problems with medication she was taking, she contends, and teammates said they were afraid to help her. When Litvin returned to practice, the suit claims, she was forced to run 3.1 miles. When she failed to complete the run, she was forced to run 100-yard sprints as punishment.

The suit details a 2012 incident in which Harness, angry at the team's performance during a match, threw a water bottle and hit a player.

“These poor girls have been trying very hard to get things changed,” McGee said. “The university claimed to have done a purported investigation, and they really never did anything.”

Harness allegedly told the team she could do anything she wanted because she was pregnant, and “no one will fire a pregnant coach,” according to the suit.

The suit contends the university ignored “red flags” about complaints in the field hockey program.

Jennifer Reeger, a university spokeswoman, said women's field hockey players “raised concerns regarding unprofessional and ineffective conduct within the university's program.”

“When Seton Hill learned of the alleged unprofessional and ineffective conduct in the fall 2013 semester, the university immediately began an investigation,” she said. “As a result of that investigation, measures were taken to address the unprofessional and ineffective conduct.

“While the investigation was closed, the administration continues to monitor the situation and work closely with the coaches and student-athletes involved,” Reeger said.

McGee said she interviewed 40 current and former players, and their parents and discovered four other players have quit the team or transferred to other schools. The team finished last season at 5-11. The suit contends that because of low morale, Seton Hill's field hockey team has a higher attrition rate than any other NCAA Division field hockey program.

Schumacher is a senior at Seton Hill, and Litvin will transfer to another school, McGee said.

“I'm a Catholic, and I'm appalled at what the school is doing,” McGee said.

“Seton Hill expects the highest standards of ethics, integrity and professionalism from all members of the university community,” Reeger said. “The safety, welfare and well-being of Seton Hill community members, as well as the safety and well-being of others, will always be a primary concern for all of us at Seton Hill University.”

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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