Ohio State fired its head cheerleading coach last week after she associated herself and her team with two former assistant coaches who were terminated “for cause” after a sexual harassment investigation. The former head coach was also found to have demonstrated a lack of “leadership and courage” when faced with challenges during her tenure.
Lenee Buchman, who had been OSU’s head cheerleading coach since July 2009, was terminated Nov. 25 for “several serious lapses of judgment and leadership,” according to an email sent to Buchman by OSU athletic director Gene Smith Nov. 22 that was obtained by The Lantern.
The October Office of Human Resources report that discovered those lapses began after former cheerleader Cody Ellis said Buchman had retaliated against him by kicking him off the team for reporting sexual harassment.
Problems found through the report included a failure on Buchman’s part to disassociate herself and the team from the two former assistant coaches, Dana Bumbrey and Eddie Hollins. The two were fired in May after an OSU investigation found “sufficient evidence” both men 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.”
Findings of the HR report
The HR report discovered Buchman participated in a cheer camp run by Bumbrey in August, more than two months after his termination.
“Though I know that the camp was not run by Ohio State, you took our students and brand there with you,” Smith wrote to Buchman. “All the while, you knew the nature of the behavior Mr. Bumbrey had been engaged in, that Ohio State had dismissed him just a few months earlier and that the university had emphatically chosen to disassociate itself from him and his damaging behavior.”
The HR report also determined, Smith wrote, that when Hollins unexpectedly showed up at a cheerleading practice Sept. 9, Buchman did not approach Hollins or ask him to leave.
“When an assistant that had been fired for sexual harassment shows up at a team practice, it is obvious what is expected of a head coach,” Smith wrote.
Buchman was found innocent of retaliation against former cheerleader Ellis, though. Smith said he and Miechelle Willis, OSU’s executive associate athletics director for student services and sports administration, agreed Ellis’ dismissal was warranted.
“We are both persuaded that the student’s past behavior — including persistent derogatory and offensive conduct toward teammates and others, the student’s negative attitude and other misconduct — all amply support the student’s dismissal from the team,” Smith wrote.
An OSU athletics spokesman declined The Lantern’s request for additional comment from Smith Sunday. Buchman did not respond to The Lantern’s repeated requests for comment last week.
While Buchman is no longer employed by OSU, she is still employed by the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators as its cheerleading coordinator.
Kenneth Baker, the OASSA’s executive director, said Tuesday he and the association’s board of directors have not yet determined whether Buchman will be retained.
“At some point in time, we will have a recommendation from the board to me based upon Lenee’s continued employment at OASSA,” Baker said. “Until that time, it probably wouldn’t be wise on me or by me to comment (on whether Buchman should remain employed by the association).”
The retaliation report
John Camillus, the attorney of former OSU cheerleader Cody Ellis, told The Lantern his client, who was dismissed from the team by Buchman in August, reported to Smith and others in August that he felt Buchman retaliated against him for reporting sexual harassment. His allegations came after former assistant coach Eddie Hollins sent Ellis sexually suggestive text messages July 14, 2012.
“I don’t believe that (Ellis’) attitude was 100 percent of the time, every day, always perfect,” Camillus said. “But that is true of virtually everybody on the team. The team was so dysfunctional that there were really negative attitudes everywhere you turned.”
As of February, when Buchman, Dana Bumbrey and Hollins were all still on the coaching staff, the cheerleading team’s constitution listed seven reasons why any team member could be dismissed, including attitude, personality conflicts and for behavior deemed inappropriate by the coaching staff.
Camillus said he and Ellis believe, however, that Ellis’ dismissal had more to do with his initiation of the investigation than his attitude.
“They don’t need to simply conclude that Cody had a negative attitude. They need to conclude that Cody’s attitude was the worst attitude of any of the 40 or so members of the team,” Camillus said Tuesday of Ellis’ dismissal. “It’s preposterous to accept the premise that it’s coincidence that the student who came forward with the sexual harassment allegations that got the coaches fired, just so happens to be the one with the attitude that requires him to be kicked off the team.
“I don’t believe for a second that Gene Smith is that gullible, or that anybody else at Ohio State is that naive as to believe that coincidence.”
OSU’s investigation into Bumbrey and Hollins began after OSU received an anonymous complaint April 6 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 Nov. 15. The report from the investigation alleged Hollins had specifically harassed male cheerleaders, while Bumbrey had specifically harassed female cheerleaders.
Before that, however, Ellis initially reported to Buchman in July 2012 that he had received the sexually suggestive messages, Camillus said.
When interviewed April 24 as part of OSU’s investigation into Bumbrey and Hollins, Buchman confirmed a male cheerleader reported to her sometime around July 2012 that he had received “inappropriate text messages” from Hollins.
Buchman told investigators that 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 Kim Heaton, the director of human resources for the OSU athletic department, 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 was retained by the university at the time. She was required to attend a sexual harassment education session with her team, which OSU spokesman Gary Lewis said was completed July 26, but she also received a 1 percent salary raise Aug. 23 to $43,003 from her former salary of $42,577.
Smith wrote in his Nov. 22 email to Buchman that OSU initially believed her failure to report the initial complaint in July 2012 was an isolated and correctable incident. Smith said the findings of the investigation cast that lapse “in a new light — not as an isolated incident, but troublingly, as part of a pattern of poor judgment and ineffective leadership that does not align with our expectations and standards for our coaching staff.”
The team moving forward
OSU’s action against Buchman, and previously against Bumbrey and Hollins, left the OSU cheerleading team with a new coaching staff. Steve Chorba, who was hired along with Ray Sharp as one of two new assistant coaches this summer, was named interim head coach Nov. 25, the day Buchman was fired. Sharp remains with OSU as an assistant coach.
Camillus said the terminations have “protected the rest of the cheerleading team and the future Ohio State cheerleaders from being subject to the same kind of misconduct,” but added OSU is still unjustly punishing Ellis.
Ellis, a fifth-year in exercise science, is still a student at OSU but has not returned to the cheerleading team.
“If it wasn’t for Cody’s courage, the current team and the future members of the team would be cheering for Dana Bumbrey, Eddie Hollins and Lenee Buchman. Ohio State admits that that wouldn’t be a good thing,” Camillus said. “But they won’t do right by the 22-year-old kid who came forward to make that happen. Instead, they impugn him.”
Smith’s letter to Buchman, though, said while he didn’t think Buchman wrongly removed Ellis, she still did not meet OSU’s standards.
“We expect from Ohio State coaches a finely tuned sense of leadership and judgment, since you are a role model for our students’ moral and physical development and responsible for their health and safety and overall well-being,” Smith said. “You failed to demonstrate the leadership and courage expected of our head coaches.”