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Ex-ASU employee says he was fired after reporting athletic booster's sexual harassment

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 2/21/2020 Anne Ryman and Craig Harris, The Republic | azcentral.com
Raymond Anderson standing in front of a crowd: Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson watches the team during practice before the first round of the 2019 NCAA tournament at BOK Center. © Mark J. Rebilas, Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson watches the team during practice before the first round of the 2019 NCAA tournament at BOK Center.

Arizona State Athletics Director Ray Anderson is being accused in a notice of claim of covering up allegations that a booster sexually harassed three women, and then firing the senior executive who reported the behavior.

A $1.5 million notice of claim filed against Arizona State University last week alleges Anderson repeatedly ignored claims that Bart Wear, an alumnus and significant donor to men's and women's teams, sexually harassed three women at athletics events.

David Cohen, a former senior associate athletics director who oversaw the men's basketball program, claims that Wear sexually harassed Cohen's wife, Kathy, and two other women.

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David Cohen claims that his wife was trying to pass by Wear in the aisle on her way to the restroom at an ASU basketball game on March 14 at the Pac-12 men's tournament in Las Vegas. Wear put his hands on her waist, moved them up the side of her body to the sides of her breasts and said, "Dave is lucky to have you."

The claim says the two other women also reported inappropriate behavior, including the donor rubbing a woman's back and asking her inappropriate questions and putting his hand on another woman's leg.

The Arizona Board of Regents released a copy of the notice of claim with the other two women's names redacted, saying it did so because they were not claimants in the case.

The university, in a statement, said an investigation confirmed the harassment incidents, but that Cohen's firing was not retaliation for reporting them.

"The university acknowledges that the matter should have been resolved in a quicker time frame and has taken steps to remind those involved of ASU policy,” it said.

Anderson did not respond to requests for comment.

Wear, when contacted on his cellphone Thursday, hung up on The Arizona Republic. A subsequent call went to voicemail and a message and text seeking comment were not returned.

Wear lists himself as an investor and philanthropist on his LinkedIn account, and notes he obtained a bachelor’s degree in business from ASU in 1982. His profile states he was a partner and owner of Winslow Capital from 1999 to 2013.

In February 2019, Sun Devil Athletics issued a press release praising Wear for being a donor to its new agility field outside Sun Devil Football’s student-athlete facility. Wear also has been a major donor to ASU’s 14 women’s athletics programs through the Wings of Gold Fund.

Claim describes repeated reports of harassment

The claim says the March 14 incident was not the first time Wear touched Kathy Cohen inappropriately, but "it was certainly the most offensive."

Cohen's claim states Anderson and at least three other ASU officials and a member of the Arizona Board of Regents were told of the donor's harassment repeatedly from March to August. But the university didn't launch an investigation until August 16, right after Cohen had been put on administrative leave. He was fired in December.

During that time, Cohen claims, ASU continued to court Wear as a donor, taking him to the ASU football game on the road against Michigan State in September.

"ASU continued to prioritize its relationship with a prominent donor over the safety of its students and faculty member," the claim said.

According to Cohen's notice of claim, an ASU investigation concluded in mid-November that Wear made unwelcome comments and physical contact with Kathy Cohen and two other women, yet Wear continued to attend ASU sporting events, including sitting courtside at a men's basketball game on Dec. 7.

"ASU's delay put members of the ASU community at risk and cost Mr. Cohen his job," wrote Michael Perez, an attorney for David and Kathy Cohen.

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Cohen has a background in professional sports, working for the NFL's Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons before Anderson hired him in 2014. At ASU, Cohen was the administrator over men's basketball, a program that has increasingly had a higher profile under Coach Bobby Hurley.

When asked about the notice of claim on Thursday night, after ASU's victory over Oregon, Hurley said, "We've been directed to make no comment by the administration."

University responds to the claims

ASU's version of events differs from Cohen's.

The university said in a statement that Cohen reported the conduct to colleagues in spring 2019 and "he indicated he felt the matter could be addressed privately with the donor through a request that he be more mindful of his conduct and respect the personal space of others."

ASU said in summer 2019, Cohen asserted "new allegations of misconduct by the donor," and the university hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation.

The investigator's report was submitted Oct. 28, and after reviewing the report, Wear's attorney said he would cease contact with the basketball program.

However, the university acknowledged Wear did attend a December basketball game, saying "He obtained the seats he had by calling someone in the ticket office and asking to change his seats.  That staff person, unaware of the pending investigation, granted the request and provided alternative tickets."

ASU said the university later "cancelled the donor’s season tickets and informed him he is no longer welcome at university events, and he has otherwise dissociated himself from the university and related entities that support athletics."

University says firing was unrelated

ASU, in a statement on Thursday, said Cohen's termination had nothing to do Wear being a donor.

ASU said Cohen, who was paid $191,227 annually, was terminated on Dec. 14 for refusing to cooperate with a department reorganization. A summary of the investigation released by the university said he had a "hostile and defiant" response to the restructuring coupled with "prior instances of poor behavior" and that motivated the termination.

"Mr. Cohen’s failure to meet the professional standards of the Sun Devil Athletics department was the reason for his termination," ASU said.

The Cohens' attorney, in an email to The Republic, noted that the university had identified Kathy Cohen in its public statements about the claim while withholding the names of the other two women its investigation found had been harassed.

"ASU continues to victimize Kathy Cohen by providing her name as the only victim's name," Perez said. "Kathy Cohen is empowered now to tell her story and defend herself from ASU's attacks."

Reach Ryman at anne.ryman@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8072. Follow her on Twitter @anneryman. Reach Harris at craig.harris@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8478.

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This article originally appeared on The Republic | azcentral.com: Ex-ASU employee says he was fired after reporting athletic booster's sexual harassment

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