Ohio State fired head cheerleading coach Lenee Buchman Monday, more than six months after two of her former assistant coaches were fired “for cause” following a sexual harassment investigation.
“We can confirm that, this afternoon, Director of Athletics, Gene Smith, terminated Lenee Buchman as head coach of the spirit program,” OSU athletics spokesman Dan Wallenberg told The Lantern in an email Monday.
Steve Chorba, one of two assistants hired in August to replace former assistant coaches Eddie Hollins and Dana Bumbrey, has been named interim head coach, Wallenberg confirmed.
Buchman’s firing came less than two weeks after The Lantern first reported upon an OSU investigation that found “sufficient evidence” Hollins and Bumbrey had violated the university’s Sexual Harassment Policy.
OSU’s Sexual Harassment Policy defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances” and “requests for sexual favors,” and includes “other physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature” when, among other conditions, it creates an “intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for working, learning or living on campus.”
Buchman did not immediately respond to The Lantern’s request for comment. Smith has not been made available for comment since The Lantern’s first report. Buchman’s updated employment records were not immediately provided upon a request from The Lantern.
A sexual harassment complaint was received April 6, when OSU received the anonymous complaint via EthicsPoint, OSU’s anonymous reporting line, that Hollins and Bumbrey had created a hostile environment by sexually harassing cheerleaders, according to investigation records obtained by The Lantern. The report alleged Hollins had specifically harassed male cheerleaders, while Bumbrey had specifically harassed female cheerleaders.
Hollins and Bumbrey were both terminated “for cause” May 23, according to letters to each coach from Kim Heaton, the director of human resources for the OSU athletic department.
When interviewed April 24 as part of OSU’s investigation, Buchman confirmed a male cheerleader reported to her sometime around July 2012 that he had received “inappropriate text messages” from Hollins. Buchman told investigators after receiving the report from the cheerleader, she addressed Hollins directly and requested he cease sending any personal text messages to students. She did not, however, report the complaint to OSU’s Office of Human Resources.
A June 20 letter to Buchman from Heaton said Buchman “did not follow the proper channels” of reporting the initial complaint from an OSU cheerleader and instead tried to resolve the issues on her own. The letter stated OSU coaches are “required to report any complaints that a reasonable person would believe to be sexual harassment.”
Buchman, who had been OSU’s head coach since July 2009, was retained by the university at the time. She was required to attend a sexual education harassment session with her team, which OSU spokesman Gary Lewis said was completed July 26. She also received a 1 percent salary raise Aug. 23 to $43,003 from her former salary of $42,577.
The initial complaint Buchman received came from former OSU cheerleader Cody Ellis, whose attorney, John Camillus, confirmed Ellis received inappropriate text messages from Hollins July 14, 2012.
Camillus called for Buchman’s termination Wednesday in an email addressed to Smith, presenting three reasons why he thought Buchman should be fired.
“First, she either permitted or fostered the sexually hostile and inappropriate cheerleading environment reflected in the results of the Bumbrey-Hollins investigation,” Camillus wrote.
He listed the second reason as Buchman’s failure to report Ellis’ sexual harassment complaints and the third as her kicking Ellis off of the cheerleading team.
Ellis was dismissed from the team by Buchman, Camillus told The Lantern.
Camillus said Ellis was told he was removed from the team for having a “bad attitude,” but Ellis reported to OSU he believed his dismissal from the team was in retaliation for his report of Hollins’ sexual harassment.
Camillus spoke on behalf of Ellis, whom he did not allow to speak with The Lantern. Camillus, who said he was hired because Ellis was “concerned about retaliation,” said he felt it was in Ellis’ best interest for him not to speak with the media.
Lewis told The Lantern in an email Nov. 19 that OSU “conducted a complete investigation into the allegation that coach Buchman retaliated against a student in connection with reporting on these matters.”
“The university found no evidence of retaliation by the coach,” Lewis said in the email. “Because of FERPA regulations, we cannot discuss additional details of the student’s conduct or his allegations of retaliation at this time without consent from the student. However, we can say that students may be dismissed from athletic teams for a range of reasons. Such dismissals are taken very seriously and any decision to dismiss a student from a team is made only after a careful review of the specific facts and circumstances. That process was followed here.”
Camillus said Monday he and his client hoped the coaches’ firings will “spare future students at Ohio State from being subject to the same kind of harassment and mistreatment that Cody faced.”
“Neither Cody nor I take any personal joy in seeing somebody lose their job — that’s a difficult thing for anybody to go through. That said, we both feel, obviously as reflected in my letter to Gene Smith, that this was the right and the necessary thing to do,” Camillus said. “We are at least relieved that Ohio State has stepped forward to do the right thing.”
The new interim coach, Chorba, was announced as one of OSU’s two new assistant coaches Aug. 22, though Wallenberg said Chorba and Ray Sharp, an assistant coach, were hired by OSU in July.
Chorba, who previously served as the head cheerleading coach at Illinois State University, told The Lantern in an interview Aug. 28 he believed overall, OSU provided the “best cheerleading experience in the country.”
“I’m just thrilled to be here,” Chorba said. “Being able to coach one of the most elite cheerleading teams in the country, it’s a great thing. To be able to offer that to the kids is wonderful to be a part of.”
Buchman told The Lantern Aug. 28 Chorba was the “whole package deal” for what OSU was looking for in an assistant coach.
“When we were looking for a coach, we looked for somebody with experience, with the skill mindset, with the same morals and values that we value here at Ohio State,” Buchman said.