A former University of Cincinnati athlete is suing after she claims she was booted from the volleyball team and singled out for social media posts her coaches deemed “too sexy.”
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, student Shalom Ifeanyi cited racial and sexual discrimination and harassment as the reasons for her dismissal from the volleyball team in late June 2017, according to Yahoo News. The complaint names former coach Molly Alvey, associate athletic director Maggie McKinley and the University of Cincinnati as defendants.
Ifeanyi, who is African-American, claims Alvey began “harassing and shaming her” about photos she posted on her personal Instagram account, complaining they were “too sexy.” The 19-year-old maintains she was fully clothed in all the photos, and noted that none of her other teammates were ever reprimanded for their social media posts.
“Upon information and belief, no such requests were made to other members of the women’s volleyball team who were of slighter build and lighter complexion despite photographs picturing them in outfits, including but not limited to, two-piece swimsuits,” the lawsuit states.
Ifeanyi said she heeded her coach’s warnings and removed the photos in question, strictly posting head shots instead. Months later, the teen said she was confronted by Alvey yet again, but his time it was over her Instagram profile picture.
“‘When the football players see this, what do you think they see?'” the coach allegedly told Ifeanyi. “‘They see your breasts. It’s seductive.'”
Ifeanyi took down the photo and was asked to remove additional photos from her account. The teen had finally had enough of Alvey’s “body shaming” and objected to removing any more pictures, which she said she posted after she got her hair and makeup done.
“There’s a history of black women because of their bodies being sexualized and that’s what appears to be happening to me,” Ifeanyi said in a text message to her coach. “I can’t help the way I’m built. I am not trying to argue, I just feel like I have to be flat chested or real skinny in order to post.”
A week later, Ifeanyi learned she was kicked off the team in a meeting overseen by McKinley, in which Alvey cited “different philosophies” for their desire to part ways with the teen. The coach did not provide and other reason for the “devastating” decision.
According to the lawsuit, leaving the team prevents Ifeanyi from renewing her athletic scholarship after the 2017-2018 school year. NCAA transfer rules also prohibit her from playing competitive volleyball in the upcoming season, which means she cannot pursue another athletic scholarship. Ifeanyi said she filed a Title IX complaint over her dismissal, but an investigation was never completed.
The teen has since transferred to another school and claims she “has lost earning capacity.”
Ifeanyi’s lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for her “pain and suffering in the form of humiliation, frustration, aggravation, anger, and depression.”