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Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Accusing Penn State, Fencing Coach Of Sexual Misconduct Cover-Up

A federal judge has dismissed a North Carolina woman’s lawsuit that alleged Penn State and fencing coach Wes Glon attempted to cover up sexual misconduct by a former assistant coach.

Fencing club owner and instructor Jennifer Oldham alleged the university was negligent in its handling of a report that assistant fencing coach George Abashidze sexually harassed and assaulted her on a December 2017 flight and that Glon and Abashidze attempted to defame and silence her.

In a ruling filed last week, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann dismissed all seven counts of Oldham’s complaint against the university, Glon, Abashidze, and Title IX coordinator Christopher Harris.

Brann wrote that “the lack of an established relationship with Penn State and absence of certain material allegations necessitate dismissal.”

The university, however, did not escape criticism, with Brann invoking the Jerry Sandusky scandal in the 71-page opinion accompanying his order.

“We have seen this show before: a long-tenured, highly regarded Penn State athletic coach covering up alleged sexual abuse by an assistant coach,” Brann wrote. “Some lessons should only need to be learned once.

“That said, the particularities of the present case make it meaningfully different than its tragic, shameful precedent involving Jerry Sandusky. Oldham, a private fencing instructor with no direct connection to Penn State or its fencing program, was allegedly assaulted on a commercial flight from Oregon to Chicago following a national fencing tournament. Because she failed to timely raise certain allegations, include essential facts, and demonstrate an established relationship with Penn State, Oldham has not made out a case against the University or its Title IX coordinator and fencing coaches.”

Oldham accused Abashidze of making numerous lewd comments, touching her without consent, and repeatedly demanding that she have sex with him, all within earshot of other passengers, during the flight on Dec. 12, 2017, while returning from the USA Fencing North America Cup tournament.

Mid-flight, Abashidze allegedly thrust his hand between Oldham’s legs and groped her.

The lawsuit alleged Glon was made aware of the incident but refused to report it to Penn State. Oldham also accused him of discouraging her from reporting it to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the nonprofit entity authorized to respond to sexual misconduct within U.S. Olympic sport programs, telling her that no one would believe her.

Third-party allegations were filed with SafeSport and in June 2018, Oldham’s husband independently reported the incident to Penn State’s athletic department and Title IX office.

A Penn State investigation substantiated Oldham’s allegations against Abashidze but determined he had not violated any university policy and did not address Glon’s alleged failure to disclose the incident.

Penn State eventually fired Abashidze in 2019 after he was suspended from USA Fencing. Oldham alleged Penn State only acted “when it had no choice,” because Abashidze’s suspension from USA Fencing meant he could not work as an NCAA fencing coach.

Oldham alleged that she was subjected to harassment online and in person and that Glon went as far as to interfere with her prospects for employment as a coach at the University of North Carolina.

Brann dismissed Oldham’s claims of Title IX violations because she was never a student or employee of the university. A defamation claim was dismissed because, Brann wrote, Oldham did not specify in her filings what was said, to whom, or when.

Claims of negligence, battery, and infliction of emotional distress also were dismissed.

Five counts of the lawsuit were dismissed with prejudice. Brann dismissed two counts without prejudice — defamation and negligent failure to train and supervise — and gave Oldham until June 3 to file an amended complaint for those.

Glon was temporarily suspended by SafeSport and USA Fencing in August 2021 but was reinstated in November following a hearing before an arbitrator.

He and the university are defendants in a separate lawsuit brought last month by a former Penn State fencer who accused Glon of abusing her and other female fencers and the university of failing to address complaints.

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (StateCollege.com)

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.

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