Kent State budgeting over $600,000 for Kesterson Title IX lawsuit

Ben Orner

Kent State plans to spend more than half a million dollars to fight a lawsuit brought forth by former Flashes softball player Lauren Kesterson, who claims the university and her coach covered up her rape by the coach’s son.

Kent State budgeted $605,000 over the past three fiscal years for outside legal counsel in the Title IX suit, said Mike Tierney, a spokesperson for the Ohio attorney general’s office.

Filed in February 2016, the suit claims head coach Karen Linder’s son, Tucker, raped Kesterson in her dorm room in 2012. When Kesterson met with Linder in May 2014 to file a Title IX complaint with the university, she said Linder failed to report it as required by university policy.

Kesterson also claims she reported Linder’s actions to the athletic department that August, but athletic director Joel Nielsen intervened to stop the filing of a formal complaint and no-contact orders. The lawsuit claims Linder blamed Kesterson for her resignation later in August, causing retaliation from teammates, coaches and alumni.

Akron law firm Amer Cunningham Co., L.P.A. is representing Kent State in the suit. So far the firm has billed the university $170,488.83 for its services, Tierney said.

Kent State is not a new client for Amer Cunningham; the law firm represented the university in a workplace discrimination suit decided in 2000.

A sample of invoices obtained by KentWired via a public records request show Kent State is paying the firm $175 per hour.

The invoices outline some of Amer Cunningham’s services, which include fact-finding, strategizing, performing case assessments and preparing documents. 

In fiscal year 2018, which began last July, Kent State budgeted $325,000 for the suit and has paid Amer Cunningham $45,833.58 so far this fiscal year, Tierney said.

Portage County-based lawyer Tim Smith said even though large state universities like Kent State have legal teams (like Kent State’s Office of General Counsel), it is normal for outside lawyers to represent state universities in major suits like this one.

“The university is a state agency, and as such, the attorney general is its law firm,” Smith said.

He added that the attorney general’s office acts as a middleman in the process. 

“The attorney general’s office would hire somebody to handle litigation on behalf of the university,” Smith said.

The attorney general’s office’s involvement in the case stops there, though. Tierney said Kent State, not the attorney general’s office, sets the budget and pays the bills.

When asked how the university makes budgeting decisions for outside lawsuits and how much more it plans to spend on the Kesterson lawsuit, Eric Mansfield, Kent State’s executive director of university media relations, said the university does not comment on pending litigation.

“The university cannot comment on the specifics of litigation or other details protected by privacy laws,” he said in a statement. “Kent State University supports and promotes policies prohibiting sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and retaliation. We enforce our policies and protocols with prompt and impartial investigations. We also offer comprehensive support to victims of sexual violence. These policies and practices reflect our core commitment to fostering a safe, respectful environment across our eight-campus system.”

The case is currently in discovery, which is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which both sides gather evidence and prepare for trial. A jury trial could begin as early as Dec. 3.


Before each fiscal year, Kent State and the attorney general’s office create a budget for each lawsuit in anticipation of what each case’s legal expenses could be.

KSU’s budget for the Kesterson lawsuit, and for any lawsuit, changes every fiscal year, because it is only a projection. While the projections over three fiscal years add up to $605,000, each year is budgeted separately.

Here are the university’s projections, along with what it ended up spending, according to an email from university spokesman Eric Mansfield Monday evening.

For example, this fiscal year (2018), the university budgeted $325,000 for the lawsuit. Roughly seven months into the fiscal year, KSU spent just over $77,000.

So far, the university’s expenditures in the lawsuit total $202,320, according to Mansfield’s updated figures.

Before reporting this story, KentWired reached out twice to university employees for information on how Kent State budgets for the Kesterson lawsuit and lawsuits in general. KentWired’s requests for information were routed to Mansfield both times.

An information request of Mark Polatajko, senior vice president for finance and administration, was forwarded to Mansfield, who directed KentWired to the attorney general’s office.

After a spokesperson from the attorney general’s office gave KentWired budget and expenditure figures, KentWired reached out to an attorney in the university’s Office of General Counsel. The request for information was, again, routed to Mansfield, who said in a statement that “Kent State does not comment on pending litigation” and to direct further questions about “the cost of lawsuits related to state universities” to the attorney general’s office.

Ben Orner is the enterprise producer. Contact him at [email protected]

// <![CDATA[ // &lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ // &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;![CDATA[ DV.load(“”, { responsive: true, container: “#DV-viewer-2707960-KSU-Lawsuit” }); // ]]&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;amp;gt; // ]]&amp;gt; // ]]&gt; // ]]> KSU-Lawsuit (PDF)
KSU-Lawsuit (Text)