University files response to softball player’s lawsuit, denies most claims


Karen Linder

Kent State filed a response to former softball player Lauren Kesterson’s lawsuit and denied many of her claims, saying “Defendant is without knowledge on this topic.”

The university also “demands that Plaintiff’s Complaint against it be dismissed with prejudice at Plaintiff’s cost.”

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, charged the university and former softball coach Karen Linder with violating Kesterson’s rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.

However, the response admits Linder failed to follow her obligation to follow Title IX protocol regarding claims of sexual assault and report the allegations to appropriate Kent State officials.

“Defendant admits Coach Linder had a duty under university policy to report allegations of sexual assault to the appropriate Kent State officials and did not do so,” the response reads.

Subodh Chandra, a Cleveland-area attorney representing Lauren Kesterson, said his office will file a response within 30 days.

“We will make an appropriate response in court, but it is clear from the response that litigation as to Ms. Kesterson’s concerns will be moving forward,” Chandra said.

The university admits Kesterson met with Linder for an exit meeting in May 2014, but it denies any knowledge of the particulars of the conversation and specifically denies the allegation that Kesterson lodged a Title IX complaint with the university during that meeting, a claim Kesterson makes in her lawsuit.

It admits Kesterson filed a formal Title IX complaint with the university and former deputy Title IX coordinator Erin Barton against Linder on Aug. 24, 2015.

It also admits Athletic Director Joel Nielsen and other senior administrators would be informed of the Title IX complaint.

However, the response denies the allegations that staff members, including Nielsen, knew of the alleged rape and failed to follow university policy in investigating the allegation.

“Defendant specifically states that Joel Nielsen did not impair, nor did he attempt to impair, the Title IX complaint or investigation process,” it says.

The response says Barton would look into obtaining no-contact orders against Karen Linder and her son Tucker Linder, the alleged assailant.

“Defendant admits that Erin Barton encouraged Plaintiff to file the Complaint and expressed that she would immediately investigate,” it reads.

Barton and Pamela Fitzgerald, another deputy Title IX coordinator, interviewed Linder about the allegations made in Kesterson’s Title IX complaint, on Aug. 26, 2015.

Linder resigned on Aug. 28 and told assistant coach Eric Oakley the reason she was leaving, but the response does not name the reason.

Kesterson’s lawsuit alleges Tucker Linder, a Kent State varsity baseball player at the time of the incident, raped her during December 2012 of her freshman year.

The response said Lauren Kesterson makes three claims in the lawsuit: the first against Kent State University for alleged sex discrimination and retaliation under Title IX; the second against both Kent State and Linder for the alleged denial of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution; the third is a state law claim against Karen Linder for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

A separate motion filed by the university asks for a judgment on the equal protection section of the complaint because the university is not a “person” and therefore would not be liable under that section of the U.S. Constitution.

Ian Klein contributed reporting.

Ian Flickinger is the senior editor of The Kent Stater, and Emily Mills is the editor of The Kent Stater. Contact Ian at [email protected], and contact Emily at [email protected]